The US Debate and Its Spillover to Canadian Politics

By Jonathan Rose on Oct 7, 2008

The events of this week remind us that sometimes in election campaigns the efforts of political parties are constrained by events completely out of their control. The US economy looks like it is heading for a full blown recession, the stock market is in seeming free-fall and the second US Presidential debate is scheduled tonight on Tuesday, October 7. How much might the US debate affect the Canadian election? Regardless of who wins, the effect may be evident in a few ways.

Significant media attention will be paid to the outcome of the debate in the United States. Phrases will be parsed, body language analyzed but more importantly, media content is likely to be focused on each candidate’s response to the financial crisis. For at least a day or two, when the American media are not focused on the markets, attention will be directed to the presidential debate which will provide a frame for the way the media covers the election. While the effects of this are unknown for the outcome of the US election, it could be profound for the Canadian election as some voters make a decision in the next couple days about for whom to vote. Imagine making that decision against a back drop of non-stop coverage of financial crisis and the response of the two presidential candidates to that crisis.

Canadians who watch US television, read US newspapers or surf US blogs will see the American election framed as a choice about fiscal management. In doing so, they may apply the same standards about the importance of financial stewardship to their choice of party here. The Canadian media as well are likely to give the debate prominence thus making the ballot question which leader has the best response to the financial crisis. The spillover of the American debate to the Canadian election means that greater scrutiny will be placed on all parties’ response to the crisis and what each might do to mitigate the effects. The Conservatives have, until recently, said that though there are ‘problems with the economy’ we need not fear a recession. With both Obama and McCain arguing vigorously that something more ought to be done, that position may not be tenable – even if were true.

In this scenario, the substance of the media coverage is less important than the continual drum beat of dire economic news. Who wins the American debate may not matter. That the debate provides yet another opportunity to focus on the economy may, however, have significant consequences for an incumbent party campaigning on its management of the economy.


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Interesting point

That's a good point, Jonathan. It's interesting that the Conservatives don't seem to have been hurt as much by the shift of attention to the economy as McCain has. That might partly be because Canadians are only now waking up to the fact that not all is well with the economy. But it seems that the Conservatives' reputation as economic managers is in better shape than the Republicans'.

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