The psychology of B.C. voters

At first glance, it looked like the split between interior and lower mainland voters was along the usual lines of social values.

   image: Macleans

Cities tend support liberal social values such as gay marriage, women’s rights, support of immigration, treatment for drug addicts, and poverty reduction. Rural dwellers support conservative values such as the integrity of the conventional family, individualism, and a no-nonsense approach to addiction.

An electoral map illustrates the divide between conservatives (BC Liberal) and progressives (NDP-Greens) with the interior coloured red and the coast and lower mainland orange and green.

This time the split was something else. Closer inspection of swing ridings indicates that something other than social values was at play. The south-east corner of B.C., including the Kootenays, is typically progressive. However Columbia River/Revelstoke swung from NDP to BC Liberal. It’s unlikely that those voters stopped being socially progressive. The Fraser Valley turned orange. It’s unlikely that the farming communities of the valley stopped being socially conservative.

There’s a close correlation between employment and how people voted. The lack of jobs creates a sense of uncertainty, whereas job growth creates optimism.  The interior has not recovered from jobs lost in the Great Recession of 2008. In 2016, the interior lost jobs while the lower mainland and Vancouver Island gained jobs. The Kootenay area was hard hit with a job loss of 2.3 per cent. The lower mainland had a job growth of 4.7 per cent while Vancouver Island had a growth of 2.6 per cent.

Shannon Daub, a director for the CCPA, believes he has the psychology of voters figured out. After talking to resource-sector workers for years, he has seen how government cutbacks in social services create insecurity. It erodes the social safety net and enforces the sense that governments can’t create jobs; that only the resource extraction industry can. And the notion of jobs in a green economy seems vague and remote.

Yet it was the BC Liberals that helped create that uncertainty in the first place. In the early 2000s, the BC Liberals cut public service jobs unevenly across the province with reductions to the interior being about twice that of the lower mainland in terms of percentage. In small communities, one of the top employers is often public service jobs. The loss of even a few well-paying jobs has a greater impact there than in urban areas where the economy is more diversified.

In addition to cuts in public services, the BC Liberals failed to restore jobs lost in the forestry sector to the pine-beetle disaster and deregulation of the industry. The government could have created jobs through value-added products, use of wood waste, and greater reforestation.

Rural B.C. voted for the BC Liberals despite the fact that the Clark government contributed to their uncertainty. Voters see resource-extraction jobs as their only hope and that’s just what the BC Liberals promised with pipelines and dam construction.

Also, energy corporations have been promoting resource-extraction jobs which offer hope. Enbridge has placed full-page ads in The Walrus and on TV Life’s moments, made possible by energy. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have regular ads from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers featuring a heartfelt discussion between a son and dad about cleaning up mining sites once they close.

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Conservatives can increase chances by decreasing happiness

The antics of some Conservative leadership hopefuls are pathetic. Chris Alexander at a rally bobs his head in rhythm to the chants “lock her up” in reference to Premier Rachel Notley, tone deaf to the toxic implications; Kellie Leitch calls for immigrants to be tested for “Canadian Values” even though no such test exists and if it did, she would probably fail.

Huffington Post

Huffington Post

Trump-style populism into will not succeed because Canadians are not ripe for such politics –we need more inequality and the resultant unhappiness for this approach to work.

Inequality creates a sense of injustice and anger that manifests itself in a variety of ways. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Nattavudh Powdthavee researched the effects of inequality for the Harvard Business Review (January, 2016). They found that anger and stress increased in countries where the richest 1 per cent controlled the greatest share of wealth.

“In societies where the richest hold most of the country’s income, people were more likely to report feeling ‘stressed,’ ‘worried,’ or ‘angry’ on the day before the survey.”

Angry politicians appeal to angry voters. Trump’s anger is what propelled him into power; that’s why his racist and misogynistic views were largely overlooked. He was as mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it any more.

It’s not just anger that is affected. As anger went up, life satisfaction went down.

“We examined data from the Gallup World Poll and the World Top Incomes Database and found that the more income is concentrated in the hands of a few, the more likely individuals are to report lower levels of life satisfaction and more negative daily emotional experiences.”

Life satisfaction exacerbates unemployment. For every 1 per cent increase in the share of income of the top 1 per cent, unemployment rises by 1.4 per cent. There are a couple of factors involved –exporting jobs to areas of cheap labour increases profits; unhappy workers tend to be less productive, take longer sick leaves, and quit their jobs.

At the other end of the scale, greater wealth also creates unhappiness. Nobel laureates Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton calculated that day-to-day happiness peaks at an income of $75,000 a year, after which it plateaus. Inequality creates unhappiness at both ends of the wealth spectrum.

Canada is the sixth most happy country in the world according to the World Happiness Report behind the Scandinavian countries but ahead of the U.S. at thirteenth. Can you guess how these counties rank in equality? Right, the Scandinavian countries are the most equal followed by Canada and then the U.S.

Inequality is rising fastest in the U.S. where the top 1 per cent increased their wealth from 8 per cent of total wealth to 19 per cent in just thirty years (Scientific American, September, 2016).

Equality and satisfaction of life can be increased, and anger reduced, through fair taxes and benefits to the poor: like minimum wages, child care, job security, employment insurance, and an affordable education.

Conservative leadership hopefuls can increase their chances by increasing inequality and decreasing the happiness of Canadians by lowering taxes, increasing tuition, resisting wage hikes, and reducing job security.