October 14: The Date

By Jared Wesley on Sep 13, 2008

Aside from a few minor media stories at the outset of the campaign, few observers are making much of Stephen Harper's decision to send Canadians to the polls on October 14.  The date, itself, holds several strategic advantages, however.

First, as noted throughout the blogosphere, the date places the Canadian vote in the middle of the American presidential campaign.  According to some, this is part of the Prime Minister's plan to run a low-key campaign, flying largely under-the-radar and convincing voters to choose 'more of the same' on Election Day.  (Incidently, this is not the first time a Canadian campaign has coincided with one south of the border.  Parts of the 2000, 1988, 1972, 1908, 1904, and 1908 campaigns also overlapped.)

Similarly, the choice of October 14th means that (some) Canadians will head to the ballot box the day after Thanksgiving.  It remains to be seen whether a combination of travel schedules, family preoccupations, and tryptophan will depress voter interest and turnout.  If it does, this could benefit the Conservatives, who have proven most effective at turning out the vote.

Third, the election falls during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.  In addition to reports that the Conservatives have profiled many Jewish Canadians without their permission as part of the party's direct voter contact program, the decision to hold the vote on October 14 places the Tories even further off-side of the community's opinion.  Of greater strategic importance, however, the choice of election date will force many Jewish voters to cast their ballots at advance polls.  This places an even greater onus on the parties to turn-out their vote early.  In some swing ridings, including Winnipeg South-Centre, this burden falls squarely on the Liberals, who will need to develop a front-loaded get-out-the-vote strategy if they are to hold onto key seats.  (As a sidenote, this also means we will likely have to wait until the advance ballots are counted before deciding a winner in these ridings.  It could be a long night for Anita Neville and Trevor Kennerd.)

Of note, the choice of October 14th also enables Mr. Harper to avoid campaigning while playing host to the Francophonie, whose conference is being held a week later.

I don't mean to suggest the Prime Minister consulted the stars when he decided upon an election date (as Mackenzie King might have done).  Nor do I chalk it up to pure opportunism (as many might characterize Ralph Klein's choice of dates, particularly in 2004).  But, in addition to preventing governing parties from hitting the hustings while riding highest in the polls, several lessons from the 2008 federal election campaign provide support for fixed election dates.  (The disadvantages of fixed dates, as Harper would tell you himself, are the subject of an entirely different debate.)

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