Did Robocallers Sandbag the Alberta Election?

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.

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9 Responses to Did Robocallers Sandbag the Alberta Election?

  1. Rose Marie MacKenzie-Kirkwood says:

    I am officially pressing #1. Our lives have become a continuous droll of telephone soliciting and I hate them all and mostly because, as you say, they have an opposite effect. I can no longer mount my stationary bike without taking both my cell phone and my house phone with me because during the hour I put aside (begrudingly) to exercise I get at least one call. I know they pick this time period because it is between 5 and 7 when they know I will be home, probably eating dinner. Why not ignore the call, because I know they will call back until they get me.

    I would not mind the telephone soliciting if they were done in moderation. Now as far as the political platform goes I find the majority of promotional information is staged. I prefer the face to face contact. Give me the facts and let me decide if your ideas are the same as mind; make me pick a number and I will do whatever it takes to make you go away. My 84 year old mother, for a long time, had a piece of paper taped to the inside of her cupboard door that said “I appreciate your input but I prefer to form my own opinion.” I am not sure if it is a reminder to herself or others but it is true and to the point.

    • Rose, you’re right, face to face contact is definitely the way to go. One on one conversations on the doorstep or pointed questions raised at an all party forum gives the voters a good chance to see the candidates perform in an unscripted manner. Sometimes they stick with the party-line but it’s a chance to see whether there’s any thought behind it. Sometimes we forget that it’s not all over after the election is won. Our individual MLAs are supposed to represent EVERYONE in their ridings, not just the people who voted for them. As a good friend of mine said to me earlier today, we need to hold them accountable, each one of them, from this point forward.
      PS I too remember the notes stuck on the inside of the cupboard. They made for fascinating reading!

  2. Jane Walker says:

    Great column, as usual! Now, for us campaign workers who are trying to introduce the candidate to the people …. please let’s look at positive alternatives. We are losing a lot of good people to the preponderence of lemmings driving to the cliff and stopping at the polling station on their way!

  3. Jane, that was a very evocative mental picture–lemmings popping in at the polling station on their way down! I worry that an unintended consequence of this election will be a reluctance on the part of potential centre-left candidates to put their names forward the next time. Running for political office is grueling work (as you can attest), Why bother if all your hard work goes up in smoke because the pollsters convince the electorate that the WR is going to win and the public thinks the only way to stop them is to vote PC. Another way to stop them would have been to vote for your party and strengthen the opposition to the point where it might actually hold the PCs accountable for a change. Let’s hope we can do that the next time we’re given this choice.

    • Jane Walker says:

      thanks, Susan! That is my very concern; we lose the good people. Our candidate did not need this job but wanted to make a difference. He has been door-knocking since June and covered the entire riding twice. He went back to some doors for the third time!! He had 1000 lawn signs and 20 large signs out …. all on private property. Our identified vote (5000 people) came out (88%) … because we scrutineered and checked off their names. It is usually safe to assume that for every identified vote there is at least one more ‘out there’. An unknown percentage of our vote and our historical support base must have been affected by the Tory TV and radio messages and YouTube videos that were relentless in the last few days warning of the WRA influence and advising to ‘hold your nose and vote PC’ …. it was everywhere, it was expensive, and it was effective! We now have a Tory majority with a Right of Tory Official Opposition. Wow! It looked bad before; I am fearful for what the future holds for us and ultimately for our country (given the Harper influence in the WRA strength and agenda)! ……. But back to the original question – we cannot work any harder so what does ‘smarter’ look like? In solid conservative Alberta this is a very important question.

  4. Jane, a very important question indeed. I know of 3 groups who are asking themselves the same question. So far we’re all mulling over what happened and what we as citizens can do about it. I am going to post an overview of their recommendations sometime in the near future. It’s time to think differently (smarter) because our old approach simply isn’t working.

    • Jane Walker says:

      Bravo! Thanks so much. We need to keep our hopes in sight …. and in perspective! I mourn the loss of great people, especially when the premier has promised an enhanced role for the opposition. We need to offer her a great balance in the next election. Maybe we can get a hint of what democracy looks like!
      Thanks again, Susan!!

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    Interesting post as always. I do not reply to any calls. The ones that are actually a person on the other side I just tell them that the way I vote is personal and good bye. I had some robocalls and 3 on the election day.

    As far as I am concerned, polls, robocalls or any other type of call, lobbyists in the legislature, untrue and violent television ads should be all banned period. Anyone can wait for election day to know the results. Furthermore it is obvious that pollsters do not really know what they are doing or if they do they are getting extra cash to lie to us. None of them got it right and my theory is that just like myself people lie to them BIG TIME. Like I said before they have no place in elections and so one helps to destroy them. Obviously I am not the only one. From a WR majority to a PC ultra majority is certainly not 9 times out of 10 like they always advertise. The sooner they are out of politics the better.

  6. Carlos, I agree with your thought that polls, robocalls etc should be banned in the run up to an election. They certainly didn’t help the voter in this race, in fact I think their inaccurate predictions simply added to the fear factor which caused otherwise rational people to vote against their parties. This doesn’t help the democratic process, it hinders it. It will be very interesting to see whether the pollsters can rehabilitate their reputations for the next go round.
    Thanks for your comment Carlos.

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