Defeat is a bitter pill — one most politicians have a hard time swallowing. That only makes sense. When you lose an election, particularly in a seat you hold, it feels like you’ve been fired by thousands of people. Most humans are not prepared for that kind of rejection. And the system does nothing to help them prepare.

I recall when I ran for office. I had no illusions about winning — it was the safest of Conservative seats (still is) but I thought for sure I would get my 15% and get some of the campaign’s money back. The response at the door was great and my workers kept telling me how good we were doing. So when it didn’t happen, I was devastated. I still remember the experience vividly after 35 years.

A friend of mine worked for a Cabinet Minister in the Mulroney/Campbell government in 1993. By Election Day, they knew the government would be defeated. The most clear-eyed among them knew they would be badly defeated. Internal polls said they would win fewer than twenty five seats. (In fact, it was much worse and the PCs were reduced to 2 members). But despite this, more than 80 MPs, when asked, were convinced that they personally would win their seat. They knew — KNEW — that their constituents loved them or at least respected them. They were sure that they were good MPs who would be rewarded for their hard work.

They were wrong. The impacts were personally devastating for many of them. Some became depressed, most took two years to get themselves back into the workplace. Not because they could afford to stay out of it (MP benefits aren’t that good, friends) but because of the recovery needed from this massive rejection.

Yet, it didn’t have to be that way. Politicians need to understand that it isn’t really personal. Voting feels like an intimate experience. After all we go behind a curtain to do it. But in reality, voting is a strange impersonal calculation. Despite the fact that everyone tells me they vote for the person, this is nonsense. Most people have no idea — really — who the person they are voting for is. They have met them once or twice but that’s it. Their perceptions are formed first and foremost by the party they are running for, secondly by the leader of that party and only peripherally by the person running (most studies put the weight at 60/30/10). Only in close national and regional races does the person make a difference. In blowouts, not at all.

The New Brunswick Conservatives are saying: hell, no, we won’t go. They point to delays in the vote count (not unusual delays, just a case of technology failing to live up to the hype – again) as a reason to question the results. The results weren’t close. Even if every close seat were overturned, the Liberal would still have won the election. But it’s natural. No-one likes to lose — even after they have.

But that’s ten minutes.


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