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Catherine McKenzie

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Should Twitter Decide Our Political Leaders? Uh, No

Posted: 10/01/2012 3:10 pm

The liberal party of Canada is about to hold a leadership race, and Justin Trudeau -- son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau -- is putting his hat in the ring. Though he's young and relatively new to politics, he already has potential opponents running scared. Why? Several reasons, but the one I've heard the most -- and take the most issue with -- is this: he has over 150,000 Twitter followers.

The thought process goes something like this: it costs $75,000 to throw your name in the hat to run to be the leader. Most Canadian politicians do not tend to be independently wealthy, and will therefore have to borrow the entry fee to participate. If the leadership race is a foregone conclusion -- which it must be with that many Twitter followers -- then why go into that kind of debt?

(Aside, isn't it awesome that in Canada $75,000 is considered a lot of money to risk in a political race? Canada rocks.)

To the people who are saying that this many Twitter followers makes the race a foregone conclusion, I say: you've got to be kidding me. And also: I really hope not.

This not a political opinion about the merits of Justin's candidacy, but, honestly, why is the number of Twitter followers he has even part of the discussion? By this logic, Lady Gaga (with almost 30 million Twitter followers, approaching the entire population of Canada) would have the U.S. election in the bag if she decided to run. Ditto Oprah, or, to give a Canadian example, Justin Beiber (if he were old enough. He has 28.4 million followers). And of course, Barack Obama could stop campaigning right now since (a) Lady Gaga is not running, and (b) his 20 million Twitter followers kicks Romney's 1.2 million followers to the curb.

(Second aside: 10 million people care more about what Lady Gaga's perfume is called than what the president has to say. Craziness.)

And has anyone even analyzed Trudeau's Twitter followers? Are they even majoritarily (a) Canadian, (b) members of the liberal party, (c) likely to vote in the leadership race? (I did a quick check and while his followers do tend to be Canadian, I don't think his potential opponents need to worry too much about followers such as the one who describes himself as a "Divine Intervention Worker at Oneness". No, I did not make that up.)

More fundamentally, since when did a leadership race become a popularity contest? OK, of course, popularity always comes into it to a certain extent. But isn't it supposed to be about ideas and qualifications and campaign skills? Since when did having someone "like" you on Facebook or follow your 140 character thoughts replace these measures?

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have 150,000 Twitter followers (think of all the books I'd sell!), but I wouldn't think that'd make me qualified, or even likely, to win an electoral race.

And I'm pretty sure, at least I hope I am, that Canadians (and Americans too) aren't going to base this extremely important decision on such weak ties.

 

Follow Catherine McKenzie on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cemckenzie1

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