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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 26 April 2013

Game Theory in Canadian Politics

Politics is a blood sport, as we're often told.  In short, it's a game - a highly competitive one in which multiple players vie for a prize - control of government and the ability to set the policy agenda.
Of course, there are more than Political Parties at the table in this particular game; there is also The PublicThe Public is not a homogeneous entity, nor are they constrained to the same rules generally accepted as essential for Political Parties to succeed; homogeneity of message and Party discipline, for instance.  As a result, The Public is not privy to the same shared resources, messaging and understanding of manipulative techniques that Political Operatives and to a much lesser degree, The Media are.
There are a couple of consequences that stem from this reality - one is, The Public cannot present a comprehensive and stable game strategy to ensure their best interests are being met.  Another is that Political Parties tend not to see The Public as a player in the game; instead, they are perceived as an audience or a consumer.
Standard practice is for Political Parties to (rightly) assume that The Public is by and large unacquainted with political stratagems; people are ignorant and therefore can be manipulated.  The question becomes which Party has the most money to both sell their message and damage their opponent, as well as the best discipline to show no cracks in their own public presentation.
This approach is entirely dependent on a divided, ignorant populace that doesn't see itself as a player at the table.  We are expected to see ourselves purely as recipients of political shenanigans - more than that, we're encouraged not to see ourselves as a collective with common interests.
That's the way the game has always been played; the tools available have reinforced the one-way dialogue between competing Parties and potential voters.  Traditional market forces apply - just as it's assumed successful companies will target likely audiences, Political Strategists pick their targets and pick fights with everyone else to suppress oppositional voting.

Social Media has opened up the dialogue in ways that simply have never been conceived before; The Public gets to watch in-fights between political tweeters in real time, respond en-masse to approaches they take issue with and share information between themselves to build a picture of the sorts of political manipulations at play.
It's getting harder and harder to pull the wool over The Public's eyes, as made obvious by everything from Porter Push Polls to Political Truths to RCMP manipulations by Vic Toews.  Even cross-sectoral impacts like Harper's position on UN drought talks and international acceptance of our commitment to clean usage of the Oil Sands are revealing themselves to the average citizen with a computer.
The Public is becoming conscious of the games being played with them; we're cluing in to our collective stake in The Ultimate Game that is politics.
As the rules of The Game change, Political Strategists are going to have to revisit their approaches and start questioning the political truths about the long game they have clung to.  This will force them to start considering the temporal political map more closely and chart their courses further out than has been their tendency. 
That's when they'll become conscious of this unsettling fact: they're being played, too.

When that happens, we'll find we're all playing a much different game than we thought we were.

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