High rural turnout is telling

Consider how most rural Saskatchewan seats tend to be won in a rather overwhelming way.

Whether it is provincial or federal politics, rural voters in this province have tended to return Saskatchewan Party MLAs or Conservative MPs to their respective houses with overwhelming majorities.

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In the case of the last provincial vote in 2011, virtually no rural Saskatchewan MLA received any less than 70 per cent of the vote and many received in excess of 75 or even 80 per cent of the vote.

In the case of the last federal vote, also in 2011, the results were almost as overwhelming as in the purely rural seats: Cypress Hills-Grasslands, won by Conservative MP David Anderson by 69.85 per cent of the vote; Souris-Moose Mountain, won by Conservative Ed Kormanicki by 73.98 per cent of the vote, and Yorkton-Melville won by Garry Breitkreuz by 68.93 per cent of the vote.

You get the picture?

But we already knew this. Here’s what is surprising:

• In neither the federal nor provincial vote, was there any sign that these over-whelming and foregone results dissuaded rural voters from voting.

• Take the federal vote in 2011 in which the national turnout was 61.4 per cent – an increase of Canada’s all-time low voter turnout of 58.8 per cent in 2008.

• In the case of each Saskatchewan federal and provincial and rural ridings, voter turnout either matched or exceeded average turnout elsewhere.

It shouldn’t necessarily be this way.

By virtue of being a rural voter, one naturally has a harder time getting to the polling stations that are often just a nice block-or-two walk to the nearest school for the average city voter.

Also, the demographics suggest that rural voters are generally older, which one would think should mean they would have more difficulty getting to the polls. Moreover, rural seats are generally viewed as less affluent and the experts keep telling us that the poorer you are, the less likely you are to vote.

So what’s happened here?

Well, it tends to show that this issue tends to be a little more complex than either the experts or the nonvoting laymen would suggest.

Ask most people why they don’t vote and they will tell you that it’s because none of the issues really impact them or because their votes don’t much matter anyway.

Well, it’s hard to remember a federal campaign – where the primary issue to rural Saskatchewan people – agriculture – has been discussed less. Even in 2011, we were still having the debate over the Canadian Wheat Board.

But what have we really heard in this campaign from any of the parties about the failure of the railways to move our grain?

Shouldn’t that be a burning question?

Yet it’s pretty safe to bet that either the Conservative incumbents in rural ridings (or those who have won the party nominations to replace them) will be returned to Ottawa.

And it’s likely as a safe a bet that we will still see higher rural vote turnout in rural Saskatchewan than we will see in most Canadian urban seats.

So what’s the difference? Well, it might be a couple things.

Rural voters do tend to already feel isolated by the fact that they are further removed from provincial and federal capitals – both physically and in terms of issues.

But rather than bemoan this reality, they view it as a bigger priority to exercise their franchises.

And perhaps because rural voters are older and from a generation where voting was seen as a civic duty, there does seem to be a greater determination not to take their rights to vote for granted.

In this time when getting out the vote seems to be an issue, maybe lessons can be learned from rural voters.