Over the last few weeks a number of pundits have been unsure how to react to sudden rise of the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament. Conservative politicians attempted to label the over 200,000-person strong group as part of "the chattering classes" and political pundits have questioned whether online protests even have meaning or weight.
What is more likely is that few politicians or pundits have actually spent time on the Facebook group and fewer still have tried to understand who its members are and what they believe. Recently Pierre Killeen, an Ottawa-based online public engagement strategist, conducted a survey of the group's membership in partnership with the Rideau Institute.
Over 340 members of the anti-prorogation Facebook group shared their views and while not a scientific survey, it does provide a window into the group's makeup and the motivations of its members. Some of the results will surprise both pundits and politicians:
I took this survey. And none of the results surprise me. There were discussions at Facebook, asking how old members are, whether they voted last time, what their main beefs with this sneaky move are/were.
CAPP members are older than expected, blowing that notion that the group was just a bunch of kids.
CAPP members vote -- 96 per cent said they voted in the last federal election. The author notes that survey participants frequently overstate their voting histories, so this number is not rock solid. But in contrast, only 60 per cent of eligible voters voted in the last election.
CAPP members are new to online activism.
Their issues are both democracy and accountability.
Lastly, when asked why they joined, just over half (53 per cent) of respondents indicated it was because “proroguing parliament is undemocratic” and another 33 per cent said it was because “Parliament needs to investigate the Afghan detainee matter."
And what should people take away from all this? The Facebook group matters for reasons beyond those I initially outlined for The Globe. The fact that this is the first time a majority of those surveyed have joined a politically oriented online campaign suggests such groups may serve as an on-ramp to greater activism and awareness.
More importantly, however, if the survey results are even remotely representative, then the members of the Facebook group vote. Any time 200,000 citizens say an issue will affect their vote, politicians should not discount them so hastily.
Finally, given that Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament has signed up twice the number of Facebook members than all the political leaders combined (Conservatives 29,616; Liberals 28,898; NDP 27,713; Bloc 4,020; for a collective total of 90,247 fans) this is a constituency whose impact may be better monitored in the voting booth than on the street.
But the street matters too. Find your rally here. There are more than 60 to chose from.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 23, 1 p.m.
CAPP membership is just about to hit 208,000.
ADDED: Here's a link to the author's blog, David Eaves.