Voter turnout in Macleod reaches unexpected lows

Macleod: Candidates hoping for better turnout with general election

By: Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 09, 2014 03:23 pm

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Hopes weren’t high to start with for large turnout at the polls at the June 30 federal byelection, however, the result was even lower than anticipated, with less than 20 per cent of voters casting a ballot in the Macleod riding.

“The problem with byelections is that they’re byelections,” said David Taras, a political scientist at Mount Royal University. “People don’t feel they're voting for a Prime Minister, they don’t feel their vote is going to count in terms of the national picture.”

The Macleod riding is home to 92,007 eligible voters, but only 18,243 people cast a ballot on election day, 19.8 per cent turn out. Conservative candidate John Barlow won the constituency with 69.2 per cent of the vote, but he only had 13 per cent of eligible voters.

With the Macleod riding being a historically conservative stronghold, Taras said it’s likely that people didn’t bother to vote because they already knew who was going to win.

“People tend to forget about it,” he said. “In a place like Macleod that has been either conservative or wild rose with towering majorities, people feel like their vote doesn’t count. Why go to the game when you already know the score?”

Barlow said he wasn’t surprised by the low voter turnout, but he is disappointed.

“I had my eyes on 20-25 per cent (voter turnout) so to be under 20 is pretty disappointing,” he said.

Barlow said there were a number of factors that contributed to the voter turnout, including the timing, and lack of interest.

“It was before Canada Day, a lot of people took that as a four day weekend,” Barlow said, “And voter apathy. We just had So many people saying, ‘you know you've got this in the bag, what are you worried about?’ And that always worries me. So we really tried hard to raise some awareness about this election.”

But it was the idea the results were a given, that Barlow was trying to move away from.

“Our message was we can’t take Macleod for granted, we can’t just assume the Conservatives are always going to win,” he said. “You can’t take it for granted and you have to make sure you get out there. Anything can happen, especially if you don’t vote.”

Liberal Dustin Fuller received 17 per cent of the Macleod vote. While it wasn’t a tight race, it was the Liberals best showing in the riding in over 25 years.

“The onus is on me on a candidate to encourage as many people to come out and vote, and I tried to do that,” Fuller said. “We knocked on 30,000 doors. We have some groundwork that we’ve been able to lay and we’ve a lot to build off of heading into the next election.”

In the Fort-McMurray-Athabasca riding, it was a much closer race between the Conservatives and Liberals, with the Tories winning with 46.7 per cent of the vote, but the liberals snagging 35.3 per cent. But one thing that Fort McMurray did have in common with MacLeod was the low turnout. The riding set an all time record low with their turnout of only 15 per cent.

But Taras said the close result was to be expected in the Fort McMurray riding.

“Everyone expects Fort Mac to turn one day (from the Tories) because people are from so many parts of Canada there, it resembles other parts of Canada more than it represents Alberta,” he said. “People come to Fort Mac with a tradition of voting Liberal or NDP.”

Ultimately, Taras said he believes voter turnout in the ridings will increase once it’s time for the next general election.

“I think people will come out to vote when they feel they can make a difference, when they feel their vote counts, and when there are issues on the table that people feel involved with,” he said. “There wasn’t that hot button exciting issue that people felt they wanted to grab onto. So without a contest without an issue without that adrenaline rush that politics often inspires yeah you get a low voter turnout.”

As for the newly elected conservative MP, Barlow said plans to have a strong community presence and he intends to keep the lines of communication open while reinforcing the important issues in MacLeod.

“We’re not going to have a byelection again, we will have a general election next time,” he said. “So there are still significant issues here with flood relief and agro business, those kinds of things. I think we will start to see people get involved again.”


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