Micro-Targeting, Liberalist and the Liberal Party’s opportunity.

Bullseye Communications

Bullseye Communications

Today, I sat down in the morning to check out the news, and found two articles in the Hill Times about, and by Conservatives, that are extremely revealing to the careful reader. I joined the Liberal Party last year when they created the Supporter category of membership, because I saw immediately that they were (finally) waking up to the fact that large reams of actionable data on the electorate was the ultimate key to electoral success. By this I mean that they had created a national database, (Liberalist) where information on Canadian voters could be collected and collated, and they had figured out a clever way to fill it with email addresses and lots of data on Liberal supporters (the Supporter category). It seems a shallow basis for throwing my support behind a political Party, but hey, I have always been liberal at heart, even when I was a Green in practice. All I needed was some reassurance that it would not be a waste of time putting my efforts into a dying Party.

So I will get straight to the meat. The first Hill Times article is entitled: “Conservatives must be better at microtargeting voters and communicating ideas to win more seats: data experts“. The article is largely based on a Poly Sci Prof. (Professor Turcotte), and a  data expert (Mitch Wexler of Politrain Consulting) who addressed the Manning Centres big Conservative do in Ottawa on Friday. They presented critiques of broadcast media messaging, and hammered home the theme that direct communications, to a targeted audience would be the key to building on the Conservative Party’s majority come 2015. In a nutshell, the article describes how Government advertising through broadcast media ( whether by TV, Radio, or Newspaper) was in essence a waste of money. You just cannot dribble a sound bite sized message into the eyes and ears of masses of random people, and expect them to take anything home from the message. You need to hit them with a message that is not filtered through media. You need to hit them with a message that speaks directly to their own personal bread and butter interests. The database dude was more specific. He addressed the theme that data management presented the opportunity to segment the electorate according to demographic variables, so that you could tailor your message to ever shrinking, but more closely targeted groups of people. The article itself was a little disingenuous. They talked about segregating data based upon broad demographics like house ownership status, religion, and ethnicity. For some reason (lol) they did not get into the meatier criteria for segmenting, like affinities for ideas and ideals, or professional designations, union memberships etc, etc.

The way I would present the argument to the Liberal Party is with an analogy. You can tell the entire electorate that your Party favours more mental health care spending through a press conference. The media filters and presents (on page 6), whatever part of your message they feel like, and a million Canadians yawn, while a few thousand say ‘great, at least someone is talking about it’. Sounds familiar? That’s because this is how the Liberal Party does politics. An alternative to that is to filter out a list of Canadians from your kick-ass political database. Create a list of people who have a family member or friend with a mental illness, plus perhaps mental health professionals. Create a custom email with a specific message that the Liberal Party is proposing a mental health care strategy that will create new mental Health care centres, hire many new mental health professionals, and fund it through measures A, B, C, etc. etc. etc. The email contains links to  a Liberal website with forums to discuss, and detailed discussions on and around mental health care in Canada. Both the email, and the issues based website will have direct calls to action to donate money to help promote this policy. Membership, and supporter sign up buttons; The all important,” Invite your Friends to join the conversation” button; Volunteer page links etc. So tell me, which communications policy do YOU think would be more effective? The press conference that reaches a million Canadians, or the highly targeted email blast that reaches 10,000 people HURTING from a dearth of mental health care options? Please, stretch your mind a little bit, and imagine other policy areas, and ways to gather names of interested people. There are as many equally powerful different segments as there are policy areas and issues in Canadian politics.

The second article in the Hill Times was centred on Jason Kenney’s address to the same conference. It is entitled: “Kenney recalls Dief’s historic 1958 majority election win, says Conservatives can win even bigger next time too“. You have to filter what he says a wee bit to take home something for the Liberal Party, but it isn’t too difficult if you have absorbed what I have to say. Kenney points to a ‘hostile media’, that is opposed to Conservative values. What he is really saying is that when he spins his web of lies, the media dares to publish articles that do not parrot his message. They filter it, and critique it, instead of presenting it un-watered. Kenney then goes on to describe specific Conservative values, and messages that have gone a long, long way to capturing specific immigrant, and ethnic communities for the Conservative Party. Slamming ‘queue jumpers’ who wafted through the immigration system collecting freebies is a typical hit policy for the CPC. It is a hit because many immigrants got into Canada the hard way. They really resent people who milked the system, and this resentment is easy to capitalise on. Now what Kenney did NOT discuss so much is the mechanics of creating and selling these ‘hit policies’. No worries though, any Canadian who follows politics knows how Kenney, the acknowledged master of segmented political data usage does it. He works really hard on outreach to very highly targeted groups. He speaks again, and again to Religious groups, ethnic press, specific cultural associations. Basically, any targetable group with a common identity, and he collects names and email addresses. Relentlessly he collects contact data on more and more Canadians. Petitions in favour of policy prescriptions. Borrowed’ membership lists to invite to events. Assistance in internal election campaigns for non-profits, community and professional associations, which yield a bonanza in data on policy preferences, and actionable email lists, etc.  Sure, it is a lot of hard work, but what he ends up with is large numbers of email addresses, connected to names, and merged into the Conservative database (CIMS), with an electronic definition of what turns that individuals crank.

So a second concrete example for you on HOW this won the last election for the CPC. Have you ever wondered just how it is that Kenney, and the CPC has simultaneously won over Christian religious fundamentalist, major Jewish groups, and Islamic organisations at the same time? The answer is simple, they narrowcast separate messages to each group through targeted ethnic press, and even better through direct email communications. You can call it talking out of both sides of your mouth at once, or more accurately, out of ‘n’ sides of your mouth, where n=the number of different segments in your database. Jason Kenney can send an email message to relatively right-wing Jewish groups correctly claiming that Likud has never had a better friend than the CPC, and that the Conservatives will support every effort to grind those lousy Islamo-fascist Palestinians into the dirt. Ten seconds later, he can hit the send button on an email to Conservative Islamic groups and mosques cheerleading for Conservative backbenchers efforts to legislate abortion back into the criminal code, and slamming same-sex marriage. I can tell you, neither of those messages would work very well if they were delivered through the broadcast media! Boy, would they get ‘filtered’ before presentation on the pages and screens! Now imagine, if you dare, if the Liberal Party ALSO had actionable, and segmented databases with the same, or similar distribution lists. How difficult would it be to send a copy of the ‘we LOVE Israeli’s Likud party and down with Palestinians’ email to the Islamic lists? Then turn around and send a copy of the anti-abortion message to LIBERAL  Jewish organisations that Conservatives stand four-square against legal abortions? I am not proposing that this should be the exact modus operandi of the Liberal Party, but it sure would be nice to have the option, wouldn’t it?

So these are the fruits of my Saturday mornings news fix. And, as usual, I have specific suggestions for you to take away and ponder. The Liberal Party is just finishing up the most succesful recruiting drive in its history. The new(ish) national database, Liberalist has been stuffed with a quarter million new names and email addresses of people with a self-declared affinity to the Liberal Party. Why not take a page from Kenney, follow the advice of Professor Turcotte, and leapfrog directly over the CPC’s commanding lead? First of all, do NOT STOP recruiting supporters now. The more names are attached to email addresses, the more opportunities there are to strike a chord within the hearts of individual Canadians. Appeal directly to Canadians to support the specific things that turn their crank. Invite them to become supporters, not strictly based upon broader demographic criteria, but on specific policy prescriptions that touch them deep down, where they live. Circulate online petitions in support of specific Liberal policy goals. Segment people, not only by the colour of their skin, or the address where they live, but by what they care about. Above all, collect their email addresses, so that the Liberal Party can speak directly, without the interference of broadcast media reporters and editors. Establish point persons who can make it their business to collect and collate reams of actionable data in specific policy areas (and yes, broader demographics as well). Imagine 15 or 20 Jason Kenneys, whose mission in life is to build communities of like-minded people through free email and electronic communications. Create the simple tools, like forums, and dedicated issues based websites to engage Canadians and involve them in discussions, and positive actions to support their dearly held beliefs and political objectives, all WITHIN the Liberal tent.

P.S.   The reason I write these blogs is that I am fundamentally a liberal. I want to be a catalyst to promote effective organising tactics to my fellow Liberals. I have requested, on three separate occasions to be included in the Liblogs blog roll, without ever receiving a response. If you know who actually administers Liblogs, and you think this is a conversation worth having, could you prod them to include my blog there? In the meantime, please do share this post with like-minded friends through the social media share buttons below!

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12 Responses

  1. Hi Matthew, great post.

    In 2011 the LPC launched what amounted to a pilot project in British Columbia in purchasing Predictive Voter Modelling (PVM) data from Ken Strasma from Obama fame from the US. We loaded all the data into Liberalist and have been experimenting and working with it for the better part of two years.

    There have been missteps, and there is a learning curve issue, but we are confident enough in the program that we are now looking at a way to implement PVM on a National scale.

    The biggest challenge to using PVM on a campaign is the significant way it changes canvassing. Having the data is not enough, we need to change the culture of the party in everything from door knocking to collecting data to the way we ask the support questions. It fundamentally changes campaign strategy and tactics.

    The next two years will require a fundamental shift in how we campaign if we hope to use PVM successfully in the next election.

  2. André Brisebois

    Liberal web guy

    I dont participate there at liberal.ca any more because they are as into censorship as the dying green party was and even are too afraid to provide a proper forum choosing instead for pages to just be buried

    There site is a fake and mere smokescreen and they are not really interested in engaging

    Even the story I will share some day would shed a lot of light on justin trudeaus recent reversal in the cannabis policy he held ..it involves spy camera video and reminding some of there use with individuals in the room
    Just holler privately and I will share though Matt
    Any way good luck

  3. @Brian; I had a quick look at some info on PVM, it looks like an interesting tool for targetting the canvas during an election, but I think it is quite different from what I am talking about. I guess the major differences are that PVM, being a predictive tool wil have substantial error rates. It would be a big help in targeting the canvas in a time of very limited resources (an election), but it does little to connect you directly to voters. I can see that it is useful though. I will look into in more depth later on this evening, and chew it over for a bit.
    The twist I am thinking is significant in what I am saying is that in between elections, a solid base of voters, supporters, and donors can be built and maintained by connecting with people on an issue by issue basis. That is quite different from predicting what will motivate targeted groups, inasmuch as in the case of PVM, the group is defined, and the motivations are unknown, while I am saying follow the motivations, and BUILD the group. Am I making sense?

  4. @John, every political Party is inherently conservative. The fact is that controlling the message, and conversation is a difficult impulse to counter. John, if you want to influence policy, I do not think you should be pinning your efforts on one person, or another. Build your own constituency, create your own ‘community’ and DEMONSTRATE it’s power for the whole party to see. I will contact you, or perhaps in the coming weeks, you will see a well reasoned argument as to how YOU can see your policy interest enshrined in law. You will need enablers, but they do not need to be central figures within the Party. Just people who can grant you certain legal priveledges, lol. You will see.

  5. Thanks Matt
    I mean why I again can not post your post like I did before
    I didnt see Brians response when I wrote
    He is one of the good ones and connected enough to post there for you
    But he is also a fresh liberal and in my view and with due respect to him a little naive as to what the party does
    If he had his way though I am sure both of us would gladly join and do as we always have politically

    I am gearing up to now run provincially against this bc sensible cannabis decriminalization initiative…had we spent 10-20 % of the pot millionaires money running we would not need a Referendum as they are trying to see

    Any way ..I appreciate your views as you know as yes my work is and has been very focused for over 20 years
    I just dont suffer fools gladly any more is the way to put it

    But lets face it ..I doubt many here can say they have been personally attacked by a sitting Prime Minister or the results of their standing up to fight corruption and bullies …results in canadas Libel laws being changed after 144 years just to get the attackers off …and its only because of the political work on only one issue that as we speak is finally on the fore front of politics

    I CAN MATT !!! I CAN SAY IT and have lived that and much much much more

    It has never ever been about me and I have never ever run in the same place twice but I would not change a thing if it resulted in the issue not being where it now is

    Take care

  6. @bluegreenblogger. PVM is designed to be used in between elections to build up support and activate volunteers and donors by engaging them on issues they care about that the party is strong on. Using it just during the writ period is not effective. PVM gives you predictions not just on people’s voting behavior but on their likelyhood to care about perticular issues.

  7. Hey there,

    I contacted all 3 admins of liblogs on Twitter for you yesterday but no response as of yet that I am aware. In the meantime, you can also join the other liberal blogging group which has virtually all the same members. It’s Liberals Online
    http://liberalsonline.feedcluster.com/

    If you are not on Twitter you should create an account and I think WordPress will autotweet for you every time you blog.

  8. @john, OK, we can talk later anyway. I have some ideas on community building that can help you quantify the value of your efforts. You know me, Data speaks volumes more than any words….

  9. @raylar: Thanks, I did read a scholarly article on PVM yesterday, I need to catch up on what’s happening obviously, because the paper I read was focussed on predictive modelling of voting behaviour, and issue responsiveness. It seemed to be all about creating matrices of probabilities of responsiveness. It struck me that the only time the Party is likely to have the resources to actually canvass in bulk would be when the flood of volunteers shows up when the writ is dropped. A great tool undoubtedly, but the real trick is moving from a probability to a direct canvass result of stated intentions and affinities.

  10. @bionic: Thank you very much! I read the left menu at Liblogs, and felt like a twit. The admins said that the only moderating they do is to confirm applicants are not members of a different Party’s aggregators. Well, I had a link to an old defunct Green aggregator on my site. (I had about 20 clickthroughs from it over 4 years, lol) Hopefully they will reconsider now. w.r.t. twitter, based on the twitter referrals I have been getting, I will set up an account right now, and enable the widget. t.y.

  11. @bluegreenblogger for PVM to be effective, it must have hard data from which to work. It is one piece of the puzzle. Surveys, both online, at the door, at festivals and on the street corners collect significantly important data that not only helps us understand that voter better, but also improves the accuracy of our PVM data (which is north of 80%, and will only get better the more we use it).

    The advantage of PVM is that it allows us to segment lists based on the predictions, and deliver messages to voters that they are most likely to respond to. Yes, we collect hard data back from that interaction, but it gives the interaction the best chance of success up front.

    PVM data does not isolate the party from the voter, if used properly it actually encourages more voter contact and engagement, and ensures that it is more efficient and effective than it would be otherwise.

    • Agreed Brian, I can see that it is a very effective tool for what it does, and will reward consistent application with much better ‘returns’ on outreach activities. I view politics (as with business) as a series of linear PROCESSES. For example, the process I am interested in right now starts with contact, progresses to engagement, and yields a series of progressively more valuable outcomes. Integrating the means of two way engagement/communications into the process is the ticket to more and more strongly engaging Supporters, and ultimately turning them into activists. As a (quasi) linear process, more effectively targeted outreach yields larger number of supporters from the same resources. Building two way communications yields a larger number of activists, donors, voters, etc for the same resources. More effective tools to mobilise them all when the writ is dropped yields much stronger results at the ballot box for the same resources expended. I think I know what I shall be blogging about next!

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