Before we turn the page on this election, I’d like to say a word about robocalls…I like them. No, the stress of this election has not unhinged my mind; I’m serious. Robocallers are like people, each with their own unique personalities. Over the past 28 days I’ve met 3 distinct robopersonalities: the “push” caller, the “press-a-#” caller and the granddaddy of them all, the “I care, I really care” call from the candidate him or herself in all of his/her pre-recorded glory.
The “push” caller
This insidious little robocaller is a Trojan horse who appears to be genuinely interested in your opinion but is subtly undermining the other candidates. Did you know that Redford’s government is going to spend millions of your tax dollars to send a rocket to the moon? You didn’t? Of course not. Because it’s not true. “Push” robocalls started out with a bang at the outset of the election but fizzled quickly when the public and the other parties complained. Guess the Trojan horses weren’t quite as subtle as they thought.
The “press-a-#” caller
My favourite “press a #” robocaller was Susan (and not just because we share the same first name). Susan is a very perky, very loud young woman who urged me to answer one simple question. If you had to vote tomorrow who would you vote for? Press #1 for Raj Sherman’s Liberal Party, press #2 for Brian Mason’s NDP party, press #3 for Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative party, press #4 for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose party, press #5 for Glenn Taylor’s Alberta Party, press #6 for the Evergreen party, press #7 for the Communist party (we have a Communist party??), press #8 for Undecided. By the time Susan finished with the instructions I’d forgotten the number representing my party and ended up pressing #8 Undecided. One thing Susan could do to make her poll more interesting is give us the option of pressing #9 None Of The Above and allowing us to type in T-H-E-G-O-L-D-F-I-S-H-P-A-R-T-Y.
The “I care, I really do” caller
I received robocalls from every party leader and listened to each one of them with the exception of Danielle Smith (my husband picked up Danielle’s call and hung up before I could wrestle the phone out of his grasp). Roboleader calls are finely crafted and complex. The leaders have a mere 90 seconds to deliver a message that will (hopefully) capture your vote. Consequently these calls follow a predictable pattern: (1) I believe in [insert party platform on healthcare, royalties, environment, etc] (2) those other guys believe in [stupid nasty] policies that will drag Albertans to a previously undiscovered circle of hell, and (3) I care, I really do, so vote for me and a rosy future awaits us.
After I’d listened to all of the roboleaders, I couldn’t remember a single thing any of them had said…with the exception of Raj Sherman—not because he said anything particularly brilliant but because in true Rocky Balboa fashion he said “I’ve got your back”. I don’t think anyone, robo or real, has ever told me that they’ve got my back. That was memorable…but not enough to swing my vote over to the Sherman Liberals. (By the way, why are they now called the Sherman Liberals? What happened to the liberal Liberals?)
Unlike me, my friends loath robocalls. One yelled obscenities into the receiver until she realized that without a “Press #0 Obscenity” option her longshoreman-like opinions would not be registered. Another delighted in misleading robocallers by pressing #4 when she really intended to vote #1. (Is it kosher to play mind games with robocallers?)
Time to get serious
Where does all this silliness leave us? Not in a good place, I’m afraid. Robocalls played a vital role in this election. They provided raw data to pollsters who worked their statistical magic and issued overheated predictions of a WR sweep into a majority government. Unfortunately for the public, the pollsters got it dead wrong and the PCs trounced the WR with a stunning 10 point margin.
What happened? The pollsters argue that this dramatic reversal was not the result of inadequate polling methodology—what else would they say…that they’re idiots so don’t bother hiring them in the future—but rather a dramatic change of heart by the committed WR electorate in the last days of the campaign.
Fine, but the real question is what caused the 11th hour swing? Sure the WR bozo eruptions and fortress Alberta talk took its toll, but could it be that the spectre of a WR majority government as predicted by the polls and reported by the media ad nauseum spooked the electorate who simply wanted to bring the PC party to heel not decimate it. Rather than risk this outcome, voters abandoned the WR. The deluge of polling results magnified this course correction to the point where the defecting WR voters triggered a PC landslide.
It makes one wonder. Is there any value in continuous polling and 24/7 reporting of the results? If so, to whom? The political parties conduct their own polls and develop a pretty accurate idea, riding by riding, of what to expect from the electorate. The only group that benefits from continuous polling is the media—dramatic poll results create sensational news stories. Unfortunately they also confuse and mislead the public creating the boomerang effect we witnessed in this election.
It’s not nice to play mind games with a robocaller, but it’s downright dangerous when a pollster plays mind games with the voters. So here’s a message to loud perky robo-Susan: although I enjoyed meeting you and your robocaller friends in this election, I will NOT be responding to any robocalls the next time around. I refuse to participate in an unstable polling process that spits out wildly gyrating results which do nothing more than destabilize the electorate. Press #1 if you agree.