The Obama Effect?

By Jared Wesley on Sep 12, 2008

Some have suggested that Barack Obama has the potential to affect this fall's federal election. A recent Harris-Decima poll pegged the Democrat's popularity in Canada in the 70 percent range. (Even on the Prairies, the country's bastion of conservatism, Obama has the hypothetical support of two in three Canadians.) Whether it be his message of "change" or "hope", or simply his charismatic style, Obama's brand of politics is said to be contagious, leaving Canadian voters yearning for an equivalent north of the border.

One line of thought suggests that the threat is so real that it factored into Stephen Harper's decision to go to the polls early. Colder, more calculating and conservative, Harper is the very antithesis of Obama, according to this view. Thus, the Prime Minister is sending us to the polls early, in order to avoid the full brunt of the Obama effect in late-October.

While there's some substance to the observation - Harper is certainly no Obama - there's little to support the theory. Beyond ubiquitous references to "change" and "hope" in Jack Layton's speeches, none of the Canadian leaders even closely resembles the Democratic nominee. Without an Obama on the ballot, Harper is wagering that he is the best available alternative.

This is not to say that American politics played no role in Harper's decision to drop the writ. It most certainly did. Not unlike Ralph Klein - who called Alberta's 2004 election amid the Kerry-Bush campaign - Harper appears content to run a low-key campaign. With so much attention focused on politics in the United States, Harper hopes his "stay-the-course" message will fly under the radar. He may well be right.

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