As of this post’s writing, Canada is in the grip of a polarizing and tight political campaign for the selection of our 42nd federal government. At the same time, Australia has turfed her fourth prime minister in two years, and Europe roils with difficult decisions around the Syrian refugee crisis.
In other words, unless you are more ostrich than human, chances are you’ve recently been required to form opinions on governance and leadership.
While politics are inescapable and might seem to be a distraction from the work of writing, I submit nothing could be farther from the truth. Nestled in the world of policy, megaphones, and attack ads are important, non-partisan lessons we can take to the page.
The Story-like Quality of Campaigns
Take a moment to think back about the elections which pulled you in and kept you riveted throughout. Chances are they featured one or more of the following:
An easily encapsulated, intriguing premise—aka a high-concept campaign.
To give a few hypothetical examples, Can a man become prime minister in a matriarchal country? Should our nation make it a priority to colonize Mars?
A high-stakes conflict with an undecided outcome.
The most engaging elections present outcomes with stark and weighty contrasts. Secede from the larger country or stay? Shift the retirement age to 70 or abolish social security altogether? Change to one official language or retain bilingualism?
But for voters to stay engaged, it’s not enough to present highly divergent roads. Nail-biting campaigns occur when the party we root for—our group protagonist—inhabits the underdog position. They have an outside chance of winning but it’s going to be a wild ride. So give them a nearly impossible task with a soupçon of hope, and watch voter engagement rise.
A choice between two mutually-exclusive goods or two equally nasty bads (a dilemma).
What if you were forced to decide between a robust economy or the colonization of Mars? (Your mileage might vary, but I think both options are cool.)
When It’s All about Character
What about the elections which don’t involve big questions or enormous stakes? Those occasions when, despite the parties’ efforts to paint the choices in black and white, the options are pedestrian and the platforms nearly identical? (Varieties of meh.) What then holds our interest? [Read more…]