Discrepancy between Elections Canada, StatsCan reports likely due to social desirability bias

Of note. The limits of self-reporting and social bias:

Despite an 11-percentage-point discrepancy between self-reported and actual voter turnout, a recent Statistics Canada survey still provides valuable information on the electorate and voting trends, experts say.

The StatsCan survey, which relies on self-reporting, collected data by adding five election-related questions to the 2019 Labour Force Survey, which is distributed to approximately 56,000 households. The survey does not include Indigenous people living on reserve, full-time members of the Canadian armed forces, prisoners, and households in remote areas with very low population density.

Because the survey misses certain groups, it actually looks more like the electorate than the entire population, Richard Johnston, professor at the University of British Columbia and Canada Research Chair in public opinion, elections, and representation.

“The people who are missed by the survey tend to be the sort of people who are generally socially disconnected and are least likely to be subject to kinds of social pressure that get people to the polls,” Prof. Johnston said.

There was a similar gap between the reported turnout numbers after the 2015 election. Actual turnout in 2015, as reported by Elections Canada, was 68 per cent. The StatsCan post-2015 election report had self-reported turnout at 77 per cent, a difference of nine percentage points.

The data in the Elections Canada post-election survey is more accurate, said Lydia Miljan, University of Windsor political science professor, as the StatsCan survey relies on self-reporting. Prof. Miljan said the social desirability bias explains much of the discrepancy between the StatsCan survey and Elections Canada report.

“It’s not socially desirable to say, ‘I don’t vote’, so that’s why you always end up having a higher rate of self-reporting as opposed to what’s actually happening,” Prof. Miljan said.

Despite the discrepancy, Prof. Miljan said StatsCan’s report is valuable for the details it offers on demographic splits, which can “give a good trend analysis from one election to another.”

“If you’re trying to get inside the guts of social, psychological, or political differences in turnouts, these surveys are pretty good. It’s just that the baseline is too high,” Prof. Johnston said.

No interest in politics still top reason

A disinterest in politics was the top reason voters, in every age group except non-voters 75 years and older, cited for skipping out on the 2019 federal election, at 35 per cent, StatsCan’s report suggested. The same reason topped the list in the 2015 and 2011 federal elections. No data exists for prior elections, according to the agency, as the survey was inaugurated after the 2011 election. In 2019, the surveyed showed 23 per cent of Canadians did not vote.

Non-voters between 55 and 64 were the most likely to cite no interest in politics as the reason for not voting, at 38 per cent. Non-voters between 18 and 24, and 25 and 34, commonly thought of as the least-engaged age groups, were actually less likely than older voters to cite no interest.

Interest in politics appears to sharply increase between those who are 65 to 74 years old and those 75 years old and older. For voters between 65 and 74, 34 per cent said they lack sufficient interest, but that number drops to 21 per cent for voters 75 and up.

Women also appear to be generally more interested in politics than men, with 32 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men reporting a lack of interest as the prime reason for staying home.

Among the provinces, voters in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Quebec were the most likely to say they lack an interest in politics. Quebecers appear to be the most disengaged, with 41 per cent lacking an interest, compared to 40 per cent in Nova Scotia and 39 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Other voters reported they were too busy to vote, making it the second most-common reason at 22 per cent, which is also consistent across the three elections surveyed.

Younger voters were much more likely to cite being too busy than older voters. Voters between 25 and 34 years old were the most likely to be too busy, with 30 per cent reporting it as their reason. As voters get older, it drops precipitously. Just 16 per cent of voters between 55 and 64, seven per cent between 65 and 74, and four per cent older than 75 report being too busy to vote. Discrepancies in gender are virtually nonexistent, with 22 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women reporting being too busy.

The third most-common reason was suffering from an illness or disability. In 2019, 13 per cent of non-voters said an illness or disability prevented them from voting, up from 12 per cent in 2015 and nine per cent in 2011.

In a supplementary post-2015 report from Elections Canada that broke down turnout by demographics, youth voter turnout was actually 57 per cent. A similar supplementary report for the 2019 election has not yet been released.

Self-reported turnout amongst voters aged 55 and up has held steady around 80 per cent over the past three elections, but self-reported turnout amongst those 44 and younger jumped at least 10 points between 2011 and 2015, and remained high for the 2019 election.

“In 2015, there was a sort of social movement quality to the Trudeau victory, and the evidence suggests that the turnout surge in 2015 was a surge of younger people looking for a new kind of politics. And a lot of those younger people stuck around in 2019,” Prof. Johnston said.

Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest self-reported turnout in the 2011, 2015, and 2019 general elections. In 2019, provincial turnout was 68 per cent, seven points lower than Manitoba at 75 per cent, the province with the second lowest turnout rate in 2019. Manitoba faced severe storms during advance polling time, causing evacuations, power outages, road closures, flooding, and some polling stations to close. Elections Canada set up an additional polling station at the University of Winnipeg for voters from four electoral districts, and teamed up with the Canadian Red Cross to transport voters. Elections Canada reported that 270 people used this option. Emergency workers helping with disaster response were also provided with additional polling stations, and 592 voted at the additional stations.

Prince Edward Island had the highest turnout in the 2011, 2015, and 2019 elections, topping 80 per cent each time. In 2019, turnout was 82 per cent, down from 86 per cent in 2015. Prof. Miljan and Prof. Johnston said P.E.I is usually the most turnout-heavy province in both federal and provincial elections.

Despite P.E.I.’s high turnout, the rate actually decreased the most between the 2015 and 2019 elections, from 86 to 22 per cent. Quebec, from 78 to 76 per cent, and British Columbia, from 79 to 76 per cent, also had turnout drops. Turnout largely remained the same in the remaining provinces.

Prof. Johnston provided an anecdotal explanation for the Atlantic provinces turnout numbers. He said the social pressure to vote in P.E.I is potentially higher given the population density, 25.1 people per square kilometre, which is the highest in the country. Newfoundland and Labrador is the province with the lowest population density, at 1.4 people per square kilometre.

“There’s a sense in which someone from P.E.I is going to feel social pressure to turn out because they see each other more regularly and they know each other. There are social networks that reinforce participation,” Prof. Johnston said.

Turnout increased the most between 2015 and 2019 in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta turnout rose from 77 to 80 per cent, and Saskatchewan from 77 to 81 per cent. 

Prof. Miljan suggested one reason for increased turnout in Western Canada was due to frustration with the Trudeau government.

“When people don’t vote, it means they’re pretty happy with the regime and they don’t feel it [their vote] matters one way or another,” she said. This theory suggests that Western voters are “not happy with the regime and they really wanted to make sure their voices were heard.”

Source: Discrepancy between Elections Canada, StatsCan reports likely due to social desirability bias

Americans in Canada get ready to vote in U.S. primary — and those results carry more weight than you think

Will be interesting to see if Canadian parties, following the extension of voting rights to virtually all expatriates, develop comparable approaches to engage expatriates (didn’t see many signs in the 2019 election):

As Americans prepare to vote in the “Super Tuesday” Democratic presidential primaries Tuesday, a lot of attention will be paid to the two biggest states: California and Texas. But Americans living in Toronto and across Canada could have an even bigger impact, proportionally.

Alongside the 14 states and one territory holding their primary on Tuesday, it’s also the start of voting for the Democrats Abroad primary, in which U.S. citizens who live in other countries are able to vote in a separate primary that sends 13 pledged delegates to the nominating convention. That’s only one fewer electable delegates than some states such as North Dakota and Wyoming elect. And because fewer people vote in the international contest — an estimated 9 million American eligible voters live abroad, but less than 35,000 voters participated in 2016 — each vote carries far more weight.

According to a recent message sent out to members by Democrats Abroad Canada, that means the votes of Americans in Toronto has four times the impact of a vote in California.

One campaign trying to take advantage of this is Mike Bloomberg’s, which ran ads in Canadian newspapers — as well as in other countries around the world — this weekend.

“What we’re trying to do is just raise awareness of the campaign, because, you know, we’re really running two campaigns at the same time,” says John Calvelli, who serves double duty as the campaign director for New York State and Democrats Abroad. “One obviously, is to get Mike Bloomberg elected, but the other is to kind of engage the base and identify new people that we could get into the fold so that they would then vote against Donald Trump in November.”

Calvelli says it’s not something many other campaigns devote a lot of resources to. Though, of course, not many campaigns have the financial resources available to them that the billionaire former mayor of New York does. Calvelli says it’s a challenge because there are no lists of members available, so phone banks and door knocking, as in a traditional state primary, are not options. Hence the newspaper ads, alongside a campaign visit to Toronto recently by Bloomberg, and social media and word-of-mouth campaigns.

Calvelli says in 2016 Canadian residents had among the largest vote turnouts for the primary, with 3,260 people voting, just shy of 10 per cent of the total voters in what he calls the “51st state” primary.

Americans in the GTA can register with Democrats Abroad this week if they want to vote in the primary, and then have the option of voting online between Tuesday and March 10, or voting in person at one of two GTA locations. In-person voting will take place starting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at the East of Brunswick pub in downtown Toronto and at Failte Irish Pub in Mississauga.

Source: Americans in Canada get ready to vote in U.S. primary — and those results carry more weight than you think

The consequences of ‘horse race’ reporting: What the research says

For those of us who are both fascinated and bored by horse race reporting, found this article and related analyses of interest:

When journalists covering elections focus primarily on who’s winning or losing — instead of on policy issues — voters, candidates and the news industry itself suffer, a growing body of research has found.

Media scholars have studied so-called “horse race” reporting for decades to better understand the impact of news stories that frame elections as a competitive game, relying heavily on public opinion polls and giving the most positive attention to frontrunners and underdogs who are gaining in popularity. It’s a common strategy for political coverage in the United States and other parts of the world.

Thomas E. Patterson, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Bradlee professor of government and the press, says election coverage often does not delve into policy issues — what candidates say they would do if elected. Policy issues accounted for 10% of news coverage of the 2016 general presidential election, according to an analysis Patterson did as part of a research series that looks at journalists’ work leading up to and during the election. The bulk of coverage that Patterson examined concentrated on who was winning and losing and why.

“The horserace has been the dominant theme of election news since the 1970s, when news organizations began to conduct their own election polls,” Patterson writes in a December 2016 working paper, “News Coverage of the 2016 General Election: How the Press Failed the Voters.”“Since then, polls have proliferated to the point where well over a hundred separate polls — more than a new poll each day — were reported in major news outlets during the 2016 general election.”

Decades of academic studies find that horse race reporting is linked to:

  • Distrust in politicians.
  • Distrust of news outlets.
  • An uninformed electorate.
  • Inaccurate reporting of opinion poll data.

Horse race coverage also:

  • Is detrimental to female political candidates, who tend to focus on policy issues to build credibility.
  • Gives an advantage to novel and unusual candidates.
  • Shortchanges third-party candidates, who often are overlooked or ignored because their chances of winning are slim compared to Republican and Democratic candidates.

Horse race reporting helped catapult billionaire businessman Donald Trump to a lead position during the nominating phase of the 2016 presidential campaign, finds another paper in Patterson’s research series, “News Coverage of the 2016 Presidential Primaries: Horse Race Reporting Has Consequences.”

“The media’s tendency to allocate coverage based on winning and losing affects voters’ decisions,” Patterson writes. “The press’s attention to early winners, and its tendency to afford them more positive coverage than their competitors, is not designed to boost their chances, but that’s a predictable effect.

The following academic studies, most of which were published in peer-reviewed journals, investigate the consequences of horse race reporting from multiple angles. For added context, we included several studies that take a critical look at how journalists use and interpret opinion polls in their election stories.

——–

The Consequences of Strategic News Coverage for Democracy: A Meta-Analysis
Zoizner, Alon. Communication Research, 2018.

In this study, researcher Alon Zoizner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, analyzes 32 studies published or released from 1997 to 2016 that examine the effects of “strategic news” coverage. Zoizner describes strategic news coverage as the “coverage of politics [that] often focuses on politicians’ strategies and tactics as well as their campaign performance and position at the polls.”

Among the main takeaways: This type of reporting elevates the public’s cynicism toward politics and the issues featured as part of that coverage.

“In other words,” Zoizner writes, “this coverage leads to a specific public perception of politics that is dominated by a focus on political actors’ motivations for gaining power rather than their substantive concerns for the common good.”

He adds that young people, in particular, are susceptible to the effects of strategic news coverage because they have limited experience with the democratic process. They “may develop deep feelings of mistrust toward political elites, which will persist throughout their adult lives,” Zoizner writes.

His analysis also finds that this kind of reporting results in an uninformed electorate. The public receives less information about public policies and candidates’ positions on important issues.

“This finding erodes the media’s informative value because journalists cultivate a specific knowledge about politics that fosters political alienation rather than helping citizens make rational decisions based on substantive information,” the author writes. Framing politics as a game to be won “inhibits the development of an informed citizenship because the public is mostly familiar with the political rivalries instead of actually knowing what the substantive debate is about.”

Another key finding: Strategic news coverage hurts news outlets’ reputations. People exposed to it “are more critical of news stories and consider them to be less credible, interesting, and of low quality,” Zoizner explains. “Strategic coverage will continue to be a part of the news diet but in parallel will lead citizens to develop higher levels of cynicism and criticism not only toward politicians but also toward the media.”

News Coverage of the 2016 Presidential Primaries: Horse Race Reporting Has Consequences
Patterson, Thomas E. Harvard Kennedy School working paper, December 2016.

Horse race reporting gave Donald Trump an advantage during the 2016 presidential primary season, this working paper finds. Nearly 60% of the election news analyzed during this period characterized the election as a competitive game, with Trump receiving the most coverage of any candidate seeking the Republican nomination. In the final five weeks of the primary campaign, the press gave him more coverage than Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

“The media’s obsession with Trump during the primaries meant that the Republican race was afforded far more coverage than the Democratic race, even though it lasted five weeks longer,” writes Patterson, who looked at election news coverage provided by eight major print and broadcast outlets over the first five months of 2016. “The Republican contest got 63 percent of the total coverage between January 1 and June 7, compared with the Democrats’ 37 percent — a margin of more than three to two.”

Patterson’s paper takes a detailed look at the proportion and tone of coverage for Republican and Democratic candidates during each stage of the primary campaign. He notes that the structure of the nominating process lends itself to horse race reporting. “Tasked with covering fifty contests crammed into the space of several months,” he writes, “journalists are unable to take their eyes or minds off the horse race or to resist the temptation to build their narratives around the candidates’ position in the race.”

Patterson explains how horse race journalism affects candidates’ images and can influence voter decisions. “The press’s attention to early winners, and its tendency to afford them more positive coverage than their competitors, is not designed to boost their chances, but that’s a predictable effect,” he writes. He points out that a candidate who’s performing well usually is portrayed positively while one who isn’t doing as well “has his or her weakest features put before the public.”

Patterson asserts that primary election coverage is “the inverse of what would work best for voters.” “Most voters don’t truly engage the campaign until the primary election stage,” he writes. “As a result, they enter the campaign nearly at the point of decision, unarmed with anything approaching a clear understanding of their choices. They are greeted by news coverage that’s long on the horse race and short on substance … It’s not until later in the process, when the race is nearly settled, that substance comes more fully into the mix.”

What Predicts the Game Frame? Media Ownership, Electoral Context, and Campaign News
Dunaway, Johanna; Lawrence, Regina G. Political Communication, 2015.

This study finds that corporate-owned and large-chain newspapers were more likely to publish stories that frame elections as a competitive game than newspapers with a single owner. It also finds that horse race coverage was most prevalent in close races and during the weeks leading up to an election.

Researchers Johanna Dunaway, an associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University, and Regina G. Lawrence, associate dean of the School of Journalism and Communication Portland, looked at print news stories about elections for governor and U.S. Senate in 2004, 2006 and 2008. They analyzed 10,784 articles published by 259 newspapers between Sept. 1 and Election Day of those years.

Their examination reveals that privately-owned, large-chain publications behave similarly to publications controlled by shareholders. “We expected public shareholder-controlled news organizations to be most likely to resort to game-framed news because of their tendency to emphasize the profit motive over other goals; in fact, privately owned large chains are slightly more likely to use the game frame in their campaign news coverage at mean levels of electoral competition,” Dunaway and Lawrence write.

They note that regardless of a news outlet’s ownership structure, journalists and audiences are drawn to the horse race in close races. “Given a close race, newspapers of many types will tend to converge on a game-framed election narrative and, by extension, stories focusing on who’s up/who’s down will crowd out stories about the policy issues they are presumably being elected to address,” the authors write. “And, as the days-’til-election variable shows, this pattern will intensify across the course of a close race.”

Gender Bias and Mainstream Media
Conroy, Meredith. Chapter within the book Masculinity, Media, and the American Presidency, 2015.

In this book chapter, Meredith Conroy, an associate professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, draws on earlier research that finds horse race coverage is more detrimental to women than men running for elected office. She explains that female candidates often emphasize their issue positions as a campaign strategy to bolster their credibility.

“If the election coverage neglects the issues, women may miss out on the opportunity to assuage fears about their perceived incompetency,” she writes. She adds that when the news “neglects substantive coverage, the focus turns to a focus on personality and appearance.”

“An overemphasis on personality and appearance is detrimental to women, as it further delegitimizes their place in the political realm, more so than for men, whose negative traits are still often masculine and thus still relevant to politics,” she writes.

Contagious Media Effects: How Media Use and Exposure to Game-Framed News Influence Media Trust
Hopmann, David Nicolas; Shehata, Adam; Strömbäck, Jesper. Mass Communication and Society, 2015.

How does framing politics as a strategic game influence the public’s trust in journalism? This study of Swedish news coverage suggests it lowers trust in all forms of print and broadcast news media — except tabloid newspapers.

The authors note that earlier research indicates people who don’t trust mainstream media often turn to tabloids for news. “By framing politics as a strategic game and thereby undermining trust not only in politics but also in the media, the media may thus simultaneously weaken the incentives for people to follow the news in mainstream media and strengthen the incentives for people to turn to alternative news sources,” write the authors, David Nicolas Hopmann, an associate professor at University of Southern Denmark, Adam Shehata, a senior lecturer at the University of Gothenburg, and Jesper Strömbäck, a professor at the University of Gothenburg.

The three researchers analyzed how four daily newspapers and three daily “newscasts” covered the 2010 Swedish national election campaign. They also looked at the results of surveys aimed at measuring people’s attitudes toward the Swedish news media in the months leading up to and immediately after the 2010 election. The sample comprised 4,760 respondents aged 18 to 74.

Another key takeaway of this study: The researchers discovered that when people read tabloid newspapers, their trust in them grows as does their distrust of the other media. “Taken together, these findings suggest that the mistrust caused by the framing of politics as a strategic game is contagious in two senses,” they write. “For all media except the tabloids, the mistrust toward politicians implied by the framing of politics as a strategic game is extended to the media-making use of this particular framing, whereas in the case of the tabloids, it is extended to other media.”

How journalists use opinion polls

The ‘Nate Silver Effect’ on Political Journalism: Gatecrashers, Gatekeepers, and Changing Newsroom Practices Around Coverage of Public Opinion Polls
Toff, Benjamin. Journalism, 2019.

This study, based on in-depth interviews with 41 U.S. journalists, media analysts and public opinion pollsters, documents changes in how news outlets cover public opinion. It reveals, among other things, “evidence of eroding internal newsroom standards about which polls to reference in coverage and how to adjudicate between surveys,” writes the author, Benjamin Toff, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Toff notes that journalists’ focus on polling aggregator websites paired with the growing availability of online survey data has resulted in an overconfidence in polls’ ability to predict election outcomes — what one reporter he interviewed called the “Nate Silver effect.”

Both journalists and polling professionals expressed concern about journalists’ lack of training and their reliance on poll firms’ reputations as evidence of poll quality rather than the poll’s sampling design and other methodological details. Toff, who completed the interviews between October 2014 and May 2015, points out that advocacy organizations can take advantage of the situation to get reporters to unknowingly disseminate their messages.

The study also finds that younger journalists and those who work for online news organizations are less likely to consider it their job to interpret polls for the public. One online journalist, for example, told Toff that readers should help determine the reliability of poll results and that “in a lot of ways Twitter is our ombudsman.”

Toff calls on academic researchers to help improve coverage of public opinion, in part by offering clearer guidance on best practices for news reporting. “The challenge of interpreting public opinion is a collective one,” he writes, “and scholarship which merely chastises journalists for their shortcomings does not offer a productive path forward.”

Transforming Stability into Change: How the Media Select and Report Opinion Polls
Larsen, Erik Gahner; Fazekas, Zoltán. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 2019.

In this study, researchers find that journalists covering Danish elections are more likely to cover polls that suggest shifts in voter support than polls that reflect stable voter support. The researchers also find that when journalists tell their audiences that voter support has risen or fallen, it’s often misleading — there usually has been no statistically significant change when taking the poll’s margin of error into account.

Erik Gahner Larsen, a lecturer in quantitative politics at the University of Kent, and Zoltán Fazekas, an associate professor of business and politics at the Copenhagen Business School, examined news coverage of all opinion polls that eight polling firms conducted between 2011 and 2015 to measure Danish voters’ intentions. The analysis focuses on 4,147 news articles published on the websites of nine newspapers and two national TV companies, which, together, featured the results of a combined 412 opinion polls.

“In a majority of the cases the [journalists’] reporting should be about stability,” Larsen and Fazekas write. “However, 58% of the articles mention change in their title. Furthermore, while 82% of the polls have no statistically significant changes, 86% of the articles does not mention any considerations related to uncertainty.”

The authors note their findings reflect “systematic patterns in how journalists turn these polls into an illusionary political horserace.”

News Reporting of Opinion Polls: Journalism and Statistical Noise
Bhatti, Yosef; Pedersen, Rasmus Tue. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 2016.

This paper, which also looks at news coverage of opinion polls in Denmark, finds that Danish journalists don’t do a great job reporting on opinion polls. Most journalists whose work was examined don’t seem to understand how a poll’s margin of error affects its results. Also, they often fail to explain to their audiences the statistical uncertainty of poll results, according to the authors, Yosef Bhatti of Roskilde University and Rasmus Tue Pedersen of the Danish Center for Social Science Research.

The two researchers analyzed the poll coverage provided by seven Danish newspapers before, during and after the 2011 parliamentary election campaign — a 260-day period from May 9, 2011 to Jan. 23, 2012. A total of 1,078 articles were examined.

Bhatti and Pedersen find that journalists often interpreted two poll results as different from each other when, considering the poll’s uncertainty, it actually was unclear whether one result was larger or smaller than the other. “A large share of the interpretations made by the journalists is based on differences in numbers that are so small that they are most likely just statistical noise,” they write.

They note that bad poll reporting might be the result of journalists’ poor statistical skills. But it “may also be driven by journalists’ and editors’ desires for interesting horse race stories,” the authors add. “Hence, the problem may not be a lack of methodological skills but may also be caused by a lack of a genuine adherence to the journalistic norms of reliability and fact-based news. If this is the case, unsubstantiated poll stories may be a more permanent and unavoidable feature of modern horse race coverage.”

Looking for more information on horse race reporting and opinion polls? Check out our tip sheet outlining 11 questions journalists should ask about opinion polls and our write-up of a study that finds that academic scholars are more likely to be included in horse race stories than issue coverage. Our collection of research on opinion polls digs into such things as polling errors and the relationship between media coverage and polling.

WeChat not included in government’s discussions with social media on protecting election

Seems like an oversight given the many signs of Chinese government interference with Chinese Canadians:

The office of Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould chose not to include a popular Chinese-language app in discussions it had with major social media platforms about protecting the upcoming federal election.

Gould unveiled her government’s plan to protect the upcoming federal election from interference at a press conference in January. One aspect of the four-pronged plan was entrusting social media platforms “to act.” In a practical sense, the government has asked platforms to ensure they’re not being exploited to spread disinformation and that they adhere to the new election laws introduced by the Liberals in Bill C-76, which pertain to them.

“As the Minister has said, we expect social media platforms to take concrete actions to help safeguard this fall’s election by promoting transparency, authenticity and integrity on their platforms,” Meg Jacques, spokesperson for Gould, told iPolitics in an email last week.

In the lead up to the election, the government has had back-and-forth dialogue with the companies that operate many of the major platforms. In letters dated June 21 and obtained by iPolitics through an access to information request, Gould wrote to companies including Snap Inc. (which owns Snapchat), Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook, reiterating her expectation that they “ensure the 2019 election is free and fair.”

Gould has also previously said she had been in touch with Reddit and Pinterest. She never reached out to WeChat.

Asked for a reason why her office didn’t communicate with WeChat like it did with others, Jacques said that the minister’s office chose to work with major social media platforms that had “an established corporate presence in Canada.”

WeChat does not have company offices in Canada. Reddit does not list an office in Canada on its website, either.

In the June 21 letters, Gould requested each of the companies to affirm their commitment to the “Canada Declaration on Electoral Integrity Online.” Announced by Gould about a month earlier in the House of Commons, the declaration includes a dozen measures for platforms to follow to ensure democratic precesses like the election aren’t meddled with.

Gould also wrote to the companies asking that they respond with a description of the actions they’ll be taking during the writ and newly introduced pre-writ period. The letters also outline to the companies who in each of the government’s law enforcement bodies are their point people in cases where they may identify potential nefarious actors attempting to exploit their platforms.

WeChat

WeChat is a Chinese messaging, social media and e-commerce app. It’s widely used by Chinese speakers around the world, with approximately 1.1 billion monthly active users. By comparison, Facebook reported 2.7 billion monthly users across its apps — which include Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram and, of course, Facebook — during the first quarter of this year.

WeChat is a popular platform for Chinese-language news, but the company has been previously criticized for censoring certain news. In December, StarMetro Vancouver reported that the app had been blocking stories about Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s bail hearing, before once again allowing readers access to stories once she was released on bail.

The recent 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre was another instance when pictures and keywords related to an event were kept off WeChat.

The app was thrust into the Canadian political spotlight earlier this year because of an incident during the Burnaby South byelection. Liberal Party candidate Karen Wang was the source of a controversy for posting on the app, urging voters to support her because she was Chinese, instead of NDP Leader and byelection candidate Jagmeet Singh, who she described as being “of Indian descent.” Wang resigned as the Liberal candidate shortly after.

Earlier this year, all MPs were warned to be wary about conducting official business on WeChat because of concerns that the House of Commons cybersecurity team had with the app.

At that time, iPolitics reached out to the offices of all MPs who represented ridings where the Chinese population made up at least 30 per cent of the riding’s total community, according to data collected in the 2016 census. Three MPs, Liberal Jean Yip and Conservatives Alice Wong and Bob Saroya, said at that time they used or had used the app in the past, in their role as a federal representative. Yip and Wong both planned to continue using the app. Each of the MPs described using it similarly to how they used other social media platforms.

iPolitics attempted to contact WeChat for this story by reaching out through multiple points of contact. The company did not respond.

Jacques said government officials “continue” to communicate with social media platforms in the lead up to the election.

“(Officials) are encouraged by their efforts to date to address online disinformation,” she said.

Like the platforms that Gould’s office has maintained a dialogue with, WeChat is bound by online advertising rules introduced by the Liberals in Bill C-76, which, among other things, require it to keep political ads displayed in a registry, if they’re shown on the platform.

Election Advertising

On Tuesday, Braeden Caley, spokesperson for the Liberal Party, wouldn’t say whether or not the party would use WeChat to advertise ahead of the election. The People’s Party hadn’t yet made a decision about whether or not it will advertise on WeChat, according to its executive director Johanne Mennie. The other three parties that are expecting to run candidates in all 338 ridings did not get back to iPolitics about whether or not they plan on advertising on the app, by the time this story was published.

Source: WeChat not included in government’s discussions with social media on protecting election

The first Chinese-Australian female MP hopes to unite divided community after historic win

One wonders what took them so long (the first Chinese Canadian MP was Douglas Jung, a Conservative MP elected in the Diefenbaker landslide of 1957):

Liberal candidate Gladys Liu has been officially announced as the winner in the Victorian seat of Chisholm — making her the first ever Chinese-Australian female member of Federal Parliament’s Lower House.

Key points:

  • Roughly 20 per cent of the population in the seat of Chisholm are of Chinese ancestry
  • Ms Liu beat out Labor’s candidate with a margin of 1,100 votes
  • If a Labor challenge is successful, it could trigger a by-election in Chisholm

Speaking for the first time after being declared the winner, Ms Liu said she was thrilled to have won what was one of the election’s tightest contests.

Ms Liu beat Labor’s candidate and fellow Chinese-Australian Jennifer Yang by just 1,100 votes to gain the crucial multicultural seat.

She praised her team for their deep commitment to her campaign and said she received a great welcome when she arrived in Canberra to take up her historic new role.

“It is a great addition to a great team, because not only am I female but I can speak … two other languages, and also I am coming from a different ethnic background and that will enrich not only the country but also the parliamentary setting,” she said.

The challenges of a divided community

Ms Liu was born in Hong Kong, but the former speech pathologist has put down roots in Chisholm since moving to Australia three decades ago.

Roughly 20 per cent of the population in the seat of Chisholm are of Chinese ancestry, but the community is heavily divided along politcal lines.

Ms Liu won the seat with just 50.58 per cent of the vote over Ms Yang who gained 49.42 per cent for Labor.

Ms Liu seemed unfazed by the narrow margin, saying “no one party can have 100 per cent support”, and the split vote among the Chinese community was “consistent with the voting trend in the country”.

“In terms of the political awareness … a lot of Chinese have shown interest in different political parties, their values, their policies,” she said. “I think this a great achievement and improvement from the whole community.”

Ms Liu said her goal was to represent everyone in the community “whether they voted for me or not”.

“This is one of my jobs — to make sure they are well represented and their voices are heard in Canberra,” she said.

Accusations of dirty tactics

But Ms Liu’s win has been called into question by Labor party officials.

Last month, she had to fend off accusations of using dirty tactics during the campaign after the ABC revealed she had posted a how-to-vote card on Chinese social media platform WeChat.

Ms Liu at first denied authorising the material, but the ABC recorded information showing she posted the how-to-vote card under her own WeChat account at the end of April.

“I feel there were a lot of nitty gritty, some minor things or even non issues and some lies as well.”

The message told voters to “copy exactly as it is to avoid an informal vote”, suggesting any other preferencing would result in an invalid ballot.

The Labor Party is set to challenge Ms Liu’s win,alleging such material was designed to confuse voters into voting for the Liberals.

If a Labor challenge was successful, it could trigger a by-election in Chisholm.

But Ms Liu said she only posted material that was “authorised by the Liberal Party headquarters” and she had “no control” over what her supporters posted.

When challenged over the how-to-vote card, Ms Liu responded, “What’s wrong with that? All parties do that”.

As for her political future, Ms Liu said her “priority is to serve Chisholm and represent them”.

When asked if she will be running for minister she replied, “Let me go to Federal Parliament for the first sitting and see how it goes.”

first Chinese-Australian female MP hopes to unite divided community after historic win ABC News Liberal candidate Gladys Liu has today been officially announced as the winner in the Victorian seat of Chisolm — making her the first ever Chinese-Australian female member of Federal Parliament’s Lower House.

Source: The first Chinese-Australian female MP hopes to unite divided community after historic win

Denmark’s centre-left set to win election with anti-immigration shift

Ongoing shift:

Tacking left on welfare and right on immigration looks likely to pay off for Denmark’s Social Democrats, who are widely expected to return to power this week as voters desert the centre-right government and the far right.

A poll this weekend predicted the centre-left party, led by Mette Frederiksen, will be the country’s largest with about 27% of the national vote after the election on Wednesday, while the “red bloc” of left-leaning parties it leads is on course for more than 55%.

The outgoing centre-right government of the prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, is forecast to finish a distant second on about 18%, with support for the far-right Danish People’s party predicted to collapse to barely 11%: half its score in the 2015 vote and a repeat of the DPP’s poor performance in the European elections last month.

The projected results follow the adoption by Denmark’s mainstream parties of hardline anti-immigration policies previously the preserve of the far right, which immigrants and human rights campaigners believe have led to a rise in racist abuse and discrimination.

Rasmussen’s Liberal party and the Social Democrats have both backed widely criticised measures on immigration, arguing they are needed to protect Denmark’s generous – if increasingly creaking – welfare system and to integrate migrants and refugees already in the country.

But discrimination cases are up and the number of racially or religiously motivated hate crimes registered by Danish police – which is likely to be lower than the actual figure because not all incidents are reported – surged to 365 in 2017 from 228 the year before.

Louise Holck, the deputy executive director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, said: “Politicians are moving very close to the boundaries of human rights.”

With a welter of tough new legislation aimed at discouraging further non-European immigration, the immigration minister, Inger Støjberg, installed a counter on the ministry’s website showing the government had tightened the law 114 times.

Many measures, some of which have been sharply criticised by Danish human rights campaigners and the UN refugee agency, have been supported not just by the DPP – a key ally propping up Rasmussen’s minority government – but also by the Social Democrats.

The centre-left party has repeatedly rejected criticism of this approach, saying it was necessary. “You are not a bad person just because you are worried about immigration,” Frederiksen said during a debate earlier this month.

Polls suggest, however, that the centre-left party’s tough stance swayed some voters to switch their support back from the populist DPP, which also faces a stiff challenge from two new small far-right parties, including Stram Kurs, which wants Islam to be banned and Muslims deported.

The Social Democrats have also won support by promising to increase public spending due to widespread anger in Denmark at what many voters see as the gradual erosion of the welfare state.

Cuts to healthcare services have led to the closure of one-quarter of state hospitals in the past decade, and one recent survey showed more than half of Danes did not believe the public health service offered the right treatments, prompting more than one-third to take out private health insurance, compared with 4% in 2003.

Other cuts over the past 10 years have led to the closure of about one-fifth of state schools, while spending per person on services such as care homes, cleaning and rehabilitation after illness for the over-65s has fallen by one-quarter.

Frederiksen has promised to raise public and welfare spending by 0.8% a year over the next five years, making businesses and the wealthy pay more through higher taxes and partially rolling back some recent pension changes.

Source: Denmark’s centre-left set to win election with anti-immigration shift

Despite falling numbers, immigration remains divisive EU issue

Easier to continue campaigning even if the numbers are falling, than address more substantial and complex issues:

Migrant arrivals to Italy have almost dried up, new asylum requests across the European Union have more than halved in three years and at the end of 2018, Hungary’s reception centers housed just three refugees.

On the face of it, Europe’s migrant crisis appears over, but the shockwaves still resound around the continent ahead of this month’s European Parliament election, and nationalist politicians are looking to capitalize on the continued tumult.

“The most important thing is that leaders are elected who oppose immigration so that Europe will be in a position to defend itself,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on the sidelines of an EU summit in Romania last week.

Opponents accuse far-right and populist parties of grossly exaggerating the problem, but the issue still resonates, with a YouGov poll published on Monday showing that immigration was currently the voters’ top concern, followed by climate change.

The survey, carried out in eight EU states, showed just 3% of respondents thought “all is well” on the migration front, YouGov said. Only 14% believed the European Union had done a good job handling the emergency.

Once consigned to the fringes of European politics, anti-immigrant parties saw support surge in 2015 when more than a million refugees and migrants flowed out of the Middle East and Africa in search of a safer, better life in Europe.

The influx caught EU governments by surprise, stretching both social and security services, and revealing the inability of Brussels to find a way of sharing the immigration burden in the face of wildly conflicting national interests.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nationalist and eurosceptic parties are expected to chalk up their best ever result in the May 23-26 EU vote, putting them in a strong position to shape policy in the 28-nation bloc over the coming five years.

LOSING MOMENTUM

In all, some 4.57 million people have requested asylum here in the European Union since the last EU vote in 2014, a threefold increase over the prior five-year period, according to EU statistics agency Eurostat. But the numbers are receding.

Thanks partly to much tighter controls, often put in place by newly empowered anti-immigrant parties such as the League in Italy, new arrivals to Europe fell to under 150,000 last year here, U.N. data shows, with even fewer expected in 2019.

Headed by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the League looks set to emerge as Italy’s largest party in the May ballot, with polls suggesting it will win around 30% against 6% at the last EU election in 2014 and 17% at a 2018 national ballot.

Since taking office last June, Salvini has effectively closed ports to migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, helping cut new arrivals here to around 1,100 so far in 2019 here, down some 90% on 2018 levels and 98% on the same period in 2017.

But latest polls suggest momentum for the League might be slowing, with the focus on immigration starting to fade – at least in Italy, where concerns about the economy and corruption are pushing to the fore.

“Salvini hopes immigration will remain a central issue because it is one that generates most support for him,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, head of political analysis firm YouTrend.

“But is hard for him to say ‘we have reduced migrant arrivals by 98 percent’ and then keep saying immigration is a threat. This is creating a problem for him,” Pregliasco told Reuters.

Looking to keep migration in the spotlight, the League and its political allies in Europe have been quick to portray the newcomers as a security threat, pointing to deadly jihadist attacks over the past five years, including assaults in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, London and Barcelona.

A poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations said there was a clear majority in every country for better protection of Europe’s borders, while Europeans saw Islamic radicalism as the biggest threat facing the continent.

“There is a creeping Islamisation, a population change, or a population displacement,” said Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom (FPO) party, a junior coalition partner.

PLAYING ON FEARS

Mainstream parties accuse the populists of playing on base emotions and say they are not interested in finding a comprehensive solution to the refugee question, which could include quotas for redistributing new arrivals around the bloc, and better integrating migrants into European society.

“The danger I see is that there are politicians in Europe who have a reason to keep this problem alive,” Manfred Weber, the German lead candidate for the EU center-right, told Reuters.

Germany took in more than a million asylum-seekers in 2015 – a decision welcomed by human rights groups, but that also stoked support for the anti-migrant, far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Tapping into discontent amongst part of the electorate, AfD entered the national parliament for the first time in 2017 and is the only German party that is putting an emphasis on immigration in campaigning for the EU vote.

“Refugees are bringing crime into our towns,” the AfD has said in Tweets and leaflets ahead of the ballot – an assertion rejected by its opponents.

Mainstream German parties are focusing on other issues and hoping immigration will fall off the radar screen. It is a similar story in France, where President Emmanuel Macron’s party has listed immigration as only its number 5 priority, with the environment in the top spot.

Gerald Knaus, chairman of the Berlin-based European Stability Initiative think-tank, believes that by relegating the question, moderate parties will allow extremist rivals to frame the debate and let the anti-immigrant narrative predominate.

“What is lacking from mainstream parties is a coherent, convincing message that they can control arrivals without violating human rights,” he told Reuters.

“The majority of people want migration control but they also have empathy for refugees. As things stand, these voters have no-one to turn to (in this election).”

Australia: Politicians warned not to generalise migrants in final push for multicultural seats

Same applies in Canada with the exception of the more complicated Australian voting system:

Australia’s culturally diverse electorates are set to play a key role in determining the outcome of the 2019 federal election on Saturday.

That’s because they are often the most marginal seats, with candidates forced to pay particular attention to language barriers, and a wide range of issues important to migrant communities.

The 10 most marginal of the more multicultural seats, based on languages spoken at home, are all in New South Wales and Victoria.

Six are held by Labor, while the Liberals held four but lost Chisholm when Julia Banks defected and is now running as an independent candidate.

To try and tap into culturally diverse communities, politicians from both sides have had campaign posters and how to vote cards translated into different languages and lobbied Chinese Australians on WhatsApp.

They have also lobbied hard for cultural and religious leaders to back them.

But with Australia home to 300 different ethnic groups, it can often be hard for politicians to get traction on issues specific to the different backgrounds, say academics and those working with migrant groups.

“It’s very difficult because there’s great differentiation among and within migrant communities in Australia,” Jayana Nadarajalingam from the University of Melbourne’s School of Government said.

“And this differentiation is across many different interrelated dimensions, such as race, culture, religion, language, class, just to name a few.”

Ms Nadarajalingam told SBS News it was important to remember issues and concerns also change with time and across generations.

“For these reasons, unless politicians properly consult members of migrant communities and ensure that the consultation is a two-way process, it would be near impossible for them to properly ascertain the complexities of the issues migrant communities face.”

With almost half of Australians having at least one parent born overseas, Ms Nadarajalingam said there have been concerns about politicians and media outlets risking generalising the issues facing people from migrant backgrounds.

“Not all of these issues are internal to Australia and their lives in Australia. Many also have concerns that are to do with ties that they have to countries that they left or in many cases fled,” she said.

“There are some generalisations that you can draw, but because we live in a complex society and there’s economic institutions, social institutions that have to navigate, I think there’s great differentiation, within specific migrant communities and also across them.

“We have to be careful about not being too broad-brushed about how we perceive migrant communities and voting patterns.”

Conservative leanings

Even if there are common issues that many members of migrant communities face, the way they might want to respond may be different. This stands in general contrast to the 2017 same-sex marriage survey, which illustrated how conservative the multicultural vote can be.

The result was a clear ‘yes’ victory but 12 of the 17 seats that voted against same-sex marriage were diverse ones, in Sydney’s west.

Could those more conservative views see left-leaning seats swing to the right in the federal election though? Ariadne Vromen from the University of Sydney says it is unlikely.

“The marriage equality plebiscite was kind of a distinct event,” the professor of political sociology told SBS News.

“It’s true that in western Sydney they were more likely to vote no in those particular electorates. Whether or not that translates into a conservative vote for the Coalition will depend on how campaigning happens in those areas. But those are pretty safe Labor seats.”

‘Proud’ to be voting

The 18 May poll marks the first time 18-year-old fashion student Geraldine Kaburakikuyu will be allowed to vote. It’s the first time for her family too after they migrated from Kenya in 2010.

The issues that Geraldine says will sway her vote, though, are different from her mother’s.

“Probably education and public transport,” she told SBS News.

“Just because I got to uni and always catch the public transport. That’s probably what affects me most, but I feel like for my mum it’s more about housing.”

Geraldine says she is proud to cast her ballot, a feeling shared in her suburb of Mortdale in south-west Sydney, by other overseas-born voters.

“I feel good considering everywhere election is a big issue, and most people don’t enjoy the privilege. So I’m pretty lucky to be here in this country,” said one voter who migrated to Australia from Malaysia more than 50 years ago.

Temporary resident Tehmoor Rasheed says he’s passionate about Australian politics. And says he dreams for the day when he’ll get to vote here.

“Every vote counts,” Mr Rasheed said.

“Nowadays democracy comes from every vote, so of course I will be really happy whenever I will be eligible to vote.”

‘Most confusing electoral system’

But according to Dr Jill Sheppard, a politics lecturer at the Australian National University, voting can prove a difficult process for many migrants.

“We have about the most confusing electoral system in the world, so for a lot of people if you’re not from an English speaking background, or if you’re not very literate in Australian politics, voting in Australian elections can be a bit of a nightmare,” she said.

And Professor Vromen believes there’s another issue yet to be fully addressed by the major parties – and that’s a lack of diversity in political candidates. She says this could hinder many migrant’s chances to connect with the parties vying for their vote.

“There are very few politicians from diverse cultural backgrounds in Australian politics, and that’s what we kind of need to focus on more into the future, that younger communities do see themselves reflected within our politics.”

Dr Sheppard agrees.

“The Anglo vote, the native Australian-born vote, is still very very strong, and we have research for instance from Australia that they don’t really like ethnic minority candidates,” she said.

“As long as there’s still that overwhelming Anglo-Australian vote, they will continue to demand candidates that look like them and it is increasingly hard for ethnic minority voters to find candidates who will represent them culturally.

Source: Politicians warned not to generalise migrants in final push for multicultural seats

After Israel’s election, the country is on a dangerous political path: Erna Paris

Good thoughtful commentary. Should Netanyahu follow on his election commitments regarding annexation, will certainly make it harder to argue against BDS:

In her final work, The March of Folly, the late historian Barbara Tuchman defined her subject as “the pursuit of policy contrary to public interest.” Her criteria for folly were threefold: An alternative course of action was available; the actions were endorsed by a group, not just by a particular leader; and the actions were perceived as counterproductive in their own time.

Among Ms. Tuchman’s far-ranging examples were the Trojan Horse and the American war in Vietnam. Were she alive today, she might have included the increasingly dangerous trajectory of Israeli politics.

Following the country’s election this week, Israel, the United States and the Jewish diaspora have arrived at a historical juncture. Although Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist opponent, Benny Gantz, tied in terms of seats, the former may well govern at the will of a coalition whose ethno-nationalist policies threaten the democratic nature of the country and promise to destroy even the rhetoric of a peace process.

The new entity includes Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), an offspring of Kach, the party of the late Meir Kahane, which was outlawed in Israel in 1994 for inciting racism, and designated a terrorist organization in both the United States and Canada. Jewish Power advocates the annexation of the occupied West Bank without offering Israeli citizenship to its 2.8 million Palestinian residents, a move that would create a state like South Africa under apartheid. The party also promotes the deportation of “Arab extremists,” dependent upon an undefined “loyalty test.”

In catapulting Jewish Power to centre stage and becoming beholden to its politics, Mr. Netanyahu may have overstepped and altered the political status quo. There would be consequences to radical illiberal legislation. First, the anger of the Palestinians and the larger Arab world, with inevitable security implications. Second, the annexation of millions of West Bank Palestinians would transform Israel into a binational state, threatening both its democratic and Jewish character. Third, the hitherto tight support of diaspora Jews for the State of Israel could fracture – a process that started weeks ago when news of Mr. Netanyahu’s alignment with far-right extremism became known.

The relationship of diaspora Jews to the State of Israel is complex and quasi-religious in nature. Based on ancient biblical yearnings coupled with the emergence of political Zionism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the desire for a safe homeland peaked in the wake of the Holocaust and was celebrated with the creation of the state. Seventy subsequent years of war and failed peacemaking with Arabs who also claim rights to the region have incrementally toughened the minds of Israelis and many of their supporters in the diaspora, especially during the long swing to the right under the governance of Mr. Netanyahu. But the radical views of Jewish Power may be a historic dividing line, for they are widely seen to betray the ancient core values of Judaism itself: deeply ingrained ethical imperatives, held by the religious and secular alike, such as Tikkun Olam – the biblical mandate to make the world a better place.

Such values also underpin liberal democracies such as the United States, and there are signs of fracture. A Muslim member of Congress, a Democrat, caused an unprecedented ruckus by questioning unwavering American support for Israel. Harder to impugn was the unique criticism emanating from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which called Jewish Power “racist and reprehensible.” Stigmatizing Israeli Arabs is “immoral,” the influential U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League added. Rabbis in both the United States and Canada also weighed in.

But other considerations may be riskier still for the long-term diaspora-Israel relationship. The majority of American Jews vote Democrat, but contemporary Israelis admire U.S. President Donald Trump. There’s a chasm of values in that equation. Jewish Power has also opened a consequential political wedge: Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders openly wished for Mr. Netanyahu’s defeat without being vilified. Add in the further perils of demography, for as the memory of the Holocaust recedes, along with the fervent nationalism born of the 1967 war, younger Jews around the world are statistically less attached to Israel than their elders.

Diaspora Jews cannot vote in Israeli elections, but Israel is a U.S. client state, and a shift in Jewish support will matter. Paradoxically, should Mr. Netanyahu cross a perceived moral line, principled resistance from the diaspora may help prevent Israel, the beloved country, from pursuing its perilous march to folly.

A choice for Indonesia’s voters: tolerance … or Islamic statehood

Good in-depth read about the upcoming elections and the tensions between moderates and fundamentalists:

When Indonesians head to the polls next Wednesday for what is expected to be the world’s biggest direct presidential election, 70 per cent of its 193 million registered voters are expected to cast their ballots in a single day.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, wears its hard-fought democracy with ease. I witnessed this during each of its previous three presidential elections – in 2004, 2009 and 2014 – and again in recent weeks as I journeyed across rural and urban Java – the country’s main island – to speak to voters, understand their views, and gauge what their choices might be, come election day.

Direct presidential elections were first held in 2004, six years after student protests and mass riots in several cities ended the 32-year rule of Indonesia’s authoritarian leader Suharto.

Until this year, polling for local councils, regional assemblies and the national parliament were held three months before the presidential election.

Generally, I have emerged largely optimistic from my on-the-ground, straw-poll research expeditions.

Indonesians cherish the opportunity to vote; it’s something they would not readily sacrifice. Whether in east, central or west Java, an island with a population of more than 140 million, I have met people eager to discuss the merits or failings of their leaders, and conscious of the responsibility they have to register their hopes and concerns at the ballot box.

Yet, over time, I have noticed that competitive politics increasingly divides the country socially, though not so obviously along class lines, as in Europe. In Indonesia the electoral divide is, alarmingly, along religious lines – between Muslims and non-Muslims.

The story of Indonesia’s 2019 election is one of two countries. In one, an aspiring, mostly urban middle class worries about the erosion of tolerance and diversity; in the other, growing numbers of pious and conservative Muslims, many of them educated in rural religious schools, want laws that put Indonesia on the road to Islamic statehood.

These divergent visions sit uneasily alongside each other, and when Indonesians go to the polls this time round, those fearing the erosion of tolerance will largely vote for the incumbent Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, a former city mayor with a common touch and an unthreatening manner; those who want the country to veer towards Islamic statehood will vote for Prabowo Subianto, a gruff former special forces commander who fought and almost won the election against Jokowi in 2014.

31 organisations urge Indonesians to abstain from voting in presidential polls

I saw these two Indonesians two weeks before the election in the west Java capital of Bandung, where a gathering of nervous middle-class millennials at a modern sculpture park worried about the decay of diversity; and at an Islamic teaching complex not far away, where the conviction of disciplined faith had thousands of devotees hanging on to every word of charismatic preacher Abdullah Gymnastiar. After the preaching was over, AA Gym, as he is known, sat patiently on an elevated office chair while the faithful lined up for selfies or to kiss his hand.

Such an unquestioning and disciplined following presents an obvious opportunity to politicians in search of votes. Prabowo doesn’t come from a devout Muslim background: his mother was a Catholic, his brother, Hasyim Djojohadikusumo, established a charismatic Protestant church. Yet Prabowo presents himself as a champion of conservative Islam.

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“They call me a radical,” Prabowo told thousands of supporters at a rally in the west Java town of Ciamis on April 6. “Yet I believe in Islam as a religion of peace that tolerates other religions.”

But that’s not what the conservative Islamic lobby supporting him wants.

At a religious school on the outskirts of the west Java town of Purwakarta, the head of security punched the air and claimed himself to be the only person with the guts to support the incumbent president.

“Everyone around here supports Prabowo because they believe he’ll promote their religious agenda of a caliphate,” said Asep, a wiry man who practises a Sundanese martial art.

Outside, a large poster for the Prabowo campaign portrayed the candidate and his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, against the image of hardline Islamist Rizieq Shihab who lives in exile in Saudi Arabia to avoid facing criminal charges under the Anti-Pornography Act (Rizieq is accused of sending explicit WhatsApp messages to a woman who is not his wife).

To enhance his appeal to the conservative Islamic groups, Prabowo promises to bring Rizieq home, and presumably the charges will go away too.

“They believe Prabowo will bring [Rizieq] back, but they don’t understand the law in the country,” said Asep waving towards Al Artoq school, which he claims has 4,000 followers from around the area.

THE MUSLIM LOBBY

Equally alarming is President Widodo’s response, which has been to try to win support from the conservative Muslim quarters by choosing a conservative Muslim cleric as his running mate.

My findings in west Java suggest this strategy has not worked. Prabowo still draws strong support from the devout Muslim population of west Java, where he won over 40 per cent more votes than Jokowi in 2014.

What is worrying, though, since Jokowi is likely to win the election at the national level, is how much leverage the Muslim lobby will now have on the president during his second term.

This makes many Indonesians who support Jokowi feel uneasy.

“Why do state schools and offices need to have mosques?” asked a Muslim mother who claims that her Buddhist son was denied promotion because he wasn’t a Muslim. She was attending a discussion for millennials led by the Minister of Religion Lukman Hakim at a modern sculpture gallery in a swanky north Bandung neighbourhood. Lukman’s response, to explain that the constitution and a battery of laws guarantee religious freedom, did not sound convincing.

“What about the recent incident in Bantul? Where Muslim residents refused to accept that non-Muslims could live among them?” asked another member of the audience.

The flustered minister shrugged off the incident, arguing that dialogue helped to repair these “misunderstandings”.

It is hard to misunderstand the signals that Prabowo’s supporters are sending. At the rally in Ciamis, a group of young men mounted the stage shortly before the candidate arrived. “We are the ‘Two-One-Two mujahideen’,” one of them cried. “Under our command, God willing, we will pursue our goal of the caliphate,” one of the young men shouted. Two-One-Two refers to the broad coalition of conservative Islamic groups who mounted mass rallies at the end of 2017, forcing Jokowi’s concession to demands to prosecute his former deputy on a charge of blasphemy.

In what many Indonesians consider a turning point for the country’s respect for religious diversity, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, was accused of blasphemy after a doctored video was submitted as evidence that he was insulting the Koran. A court later sentenced him to two years in jail.

The crucible of this vision of Indonesia under Islamic law can be found a few kilometres down the road from Ciamis. Set in verdant rice fields, the Miftahul Huda school is the largest of its kind in west Java. More than 4,000 students come here to study the Koran. After surrendering my ID I was permitted to drive up to the executive office, where after a while a pair of surly youths dressed in black invited me to sit on the floor.

“Who are you and where are you from?” the younger man asked suspiciously.

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The conversation was sparse. No, they do not engage in politics; students are not even allowed outside the school perimeter without special permission. Yet it was from here in 2017 that the first march on Jakarta was organised to demand Ahok’s arrest.

Back in Bandung, I caught up with Jalaluddin Rakhmat, a member of parliament for Jokowi’s main party platform, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP).

“Both Prabowo and his Muslim supporters suffer from delusions,” he said in his humble home situated just north of the regional capital. “Prabowo thinks if he wins he can dump the Muslims. The Muslims in turn are using Prabowo to come to power.”

It’s a bit like the way Christian evangelicals think they are using US President Donald Trump.

Jalaluddin, who is from the small Shiite minority, is among those who fear the erosion of tolerance for diversity. “We Muslims who are with Jokowi stand for a different Islam: we don’t want to take Islam as the basis of the state.” For people like us, he said, “if we go to Prabowo we will find monsters”.

EROSION OF TOLERANCE

The problem for Jalaluddin, and like-minded Indonesians anxious to shore up pluralism, is that Jokowi is widely regarded as having failed to deliver as a moderate. He has been soft on human rights and has pandered to the Islamic right. Many young people living in the Indonesia of tolerance and pluralism are too scared to vote for Prabowo but dislike Jokowi. They might spoil their ballots, or not vote at all.

Is there a way to reconcile these two Indonesias? While canvassing views I came across an interesting experiment in social development. A group of Muslim activists at Salman Mosque, which sits next door to Bandung’s Institute of Technology, were looking for ways to harness Islamic teaching to progressive change.

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“We’re looking for local champions,” said Salim Rusli, who runs Al Wakaf, an NGO attached to the mosque, which has a long history of student activism. These can be local ulamawho use Islamic teaching to promote innovative thinking about mundane issues such as marketing vegetables or who foster constructive communication with local government.

This kind of grass-roots societal approach could also begin to build bridges across the religious divide that has opened in Indonesian society. But it will require political leaders like Prabowo to stop using Islam as a political weapon, or Jokowi to strengthen his leadership by framing a national narrative that more actively and effectively defends the tolerance of minorities.

Source: A choice for Indonesia’s voters: tolerance … or Islamic statehood