I have been preaching the virtues of the ‘new’ supporter category of Liberal Party ‘memberships’ ever since the Liberal Party announced it nearly a year ago. It is such an innocuous seeming innovation, but the implications are profoundly exciting. I am not at all surprised at the turn of events over the course of this Federal Liberal Party leadership race, in fact, I feel vindicated in my predictions of an enormous electoral juggernaut in the making, in the form and shape of Liberalist, the National contact database licensed from the Obama team.
I will quickly re-iterate my past arguments about the importance of a free, and simple way to register support for the Liberal Party, complete with name, email address, and postal code.
The starting point for any political database is the electronic register of all enumerated voters given to every Party, and contestant at the outset of an election campaign. The dataset provided by Elections Canada includes names, addresses, and poll numbers for the entire electorate. Please note that the Privacy act exempts political users of data from the prohibition against sharing personal and private data, so ANY DATA from ANY ELECTION or ( Municipal, Provincial, or Federal), or ANY ‘political purpose’, can be imported into a database like Liberalist. I mention that because, for example, a Municipal candidate in Toronto would also receive the residency status of each voter (Owner, Renter), as well as the School board affiliation where relevant. (Separate school board or Public school board). Someone like, say, Smitherman is perfectly entitled to hand over his database to the Liberal Party, and like magic (well, with a lot of back-end work), Liberalist now has a whole lot more actionable data on every voter in Toronto.
That data is enriched for free over the course of any election, as electronic updates are provided with the names of those who voted at advance polls, and people who register to vote during the writ period. Most political campaigns also dedicate a huge effort to enriching the data through telephone and door to door canvassing the electorate for voting intentions, and to a lesser extent issues of interest, willingness to accept a lawn sign, etc. So, over the course of an election, the database has a large chunk of people identified as voters in the advance polls. There are lists of people who are dedicated enough to take a lawn sign for your Party, (and the opposition). There are hopefully large numbers of people who have expressed the intention to vote for your Party, and a great many people have been identified as supporters for the other party’s as well. This is what I mean when I say the data is enriched. There is a growing level of detail about the electorate, built up for each and every voter.
I have argued that the KEY to winning elections is the ability to communicate directly, one-on-one with the electorate. The reason is that you do not need to rely on the Media to filter your message, and pass on half of what you want to say to every Tom, Dick, and Sally. You can control the timing of what you want to say. You can control the content of what you want to say. You can NARROWCAST a message to those electors most receptive to your message, provided you have sufficient data to segment your contests by relevant criteria. For example, if you have integrated all the free information provided to candidates at all levels in Toronto, you can create a list of Catholic home owners, who live in the polls adjacent to the Conservatives hypothetical new radioactive waste dump. Hmmm, I can think of a few political messages that could be delivered to such a list of people.
But the trick of it is, how do you communicate with those people once you have enough depth of data to segment? There are commercial data vendors who will happily sell the Party every phone number in Canada. It is cheap, and every political party shells out a few bucks to get this info into the database. But telephoning really large numbers of people is expensive, and time-consuming. That is why robo-calling is so popular, because it is a cheap way to reach out to loads and loads of people, even if it is not hugely effective. You can mail stuff to people, but that is pretty expensive too. It is much more effective than robo-calling, so there is definitely a place for the targeted mail-shot, but the major constraint is the availability of $. Then there is the magical, almost free medium of e-mail. That is the perfect political communications tool. It is so cheap as to be nearly free. It is perfectly suited to provide the means (hot links) to generate an IMMEDIATE response to your call to action embedded in an email. It can be adapted for huge mailings, or very small, highly targeted messages. In short, it is the shangri-la of organisers, and political field workers everywhere.
So this brings me to the exchange of value between the Supporter and the Liberal Party. Supporters are enticed to provide their name, email address, and postal code by the promise that they can influence the selection of the next leader by being given a vote. The value to the Liberal Party is that with those three pieces of information, they can match the supporters name to their list of electors, and attach the fact that THIS voter supports the Liberal Party, along with a virtually free means to contact them directly via their email address. Because of the nature of an electronic sign-up, it is also possible to gather a little more information about THIS supporter. When somebody fills out an online form, the page, or link within an email that brought them to the sign-up form can be traced, and attached to the actual data collected from the new supporter. So, for example, if a website that promotes electoral co-operation refers somebody to a Liberal Party supporter sign-up form (called a ‘landing page’), then Liberalist can be coaxed to make note of the fact that THIS supporter frequents electoral co-operation websites. If the referral came from a link in an email sent out by an organisation like, oh, lets say Leadnow, that fact should definitely be tagged in Liberalist. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal to most people, but it is this added DEPTH of data that allows the database to be segmented for targeted communications.
Which brings me to the theme of this post. Joyce Murray is the Liberal Leadership candidate whose main claim to fame (for now), is that she is proposing a controversial measure for the non-Conservative Party’s to co-operate by selecting joint candidates in specific ridings. The intent is to ensure that the anti-Conservatives do not suffer from vote splitting, and get to boot the Conservative candidate to the curb. This electoral co-operation will be consummated when the next (presumably NOT Conservative government) reforms the elections process to mandate preferential ballots be used in Federal elections.
So how is that working out for Joyce? Well, I have no axe to grind, but I think I speak for most Liberals when I say that Joyce was not considered one of the front ranked candidates. That has changed in a hurry though, because she has done the ABSOLUTE BEST JOB of leveraging the supporter category to strengthen her campaign. She has crafted a policy message that resonates with many, many, thousands of Canadians. She has worked the phones hard, and drawn a number of third parties into the fray on her behalf. Leadnow, FairVote Canada, and a number of other electoral reform organisations have been targeting their huge memberships with emails, and communications encouraging them to join the Liberal Party as supporters, so as to support their dearly held beliefs. Last week, she even pulled an endorsement from David Suzuki, encouraging Canadians to join the Liberal Party as supporters. I know a lot of democratic reform
What motivates YOU?
advocates from my Green Party days, and I can categorically state that they are HIGHLY motivated, and the turnout of her voters will embarrass the other candidates come time to count the ballots. ( I expect maybe a 20%-30% turnout of all Supporters in Liberalist, but Joyce will score better than 50%). That is because a general interest and affinity for the Liberal Party which most Supporters will evince comes nowhere near the motivational potential of a deeply held policy interest. I am pretty certain that Justin Trudeau will still win, because his campaign is signing up hundreds of thousands of supporters, but Joyce will probably surprise the hell out of everybody when the ballots are counted.
So that is Joyce Murray, the fascinating example. Now to how this example illustrates the coming Liberal election victory in 2015. The leadership race is fast approaching it’s conclusion, and with that the supporter category will come to an end.., or will it? I will ask a question, is the Liberal Party stupid enough to throw away the most important innovation in Canadian politics since the Conservatives created CIMS? Nope, I submit that the Liberal Party wants to WIN the next election, and they will figure out that they already have the tool in the drawer that will make this happen. The extraordinary results I anticipate for Joyce are a direct result of empowering motivated Canadians to support their policy ideals, within the ranks of the Liberal Party. In order to maintain the momentum created by the Leadership contest, it would take a pretty foolish organiser to ignore the demonstrated potential of a quick, free, and easy recruiting tool. A long time ago, I blogged that the Green Party could leverage the policy aspirations of Canadians, by creating forums, and vehicles for people who shared a common interest to gather together and share their passion under a Green Party umbrella. Well, the Green Party is toast now, but this is a far more viable proposal for the Liberal Party. Civil society in Canada includes a great many advocacy groups, whose values are not incompatible with the Liberal Party. With a little creativity, those advocacy groups, or more specifically THEIR MEMBERSHIP can be enticed into the Liberal fold by an offer to allow the public to help formulate policy for the Liberal Party to carry into the next general election. This is nothing new, but the big difference is that with a supporter category, the Liberal Party can inherit the contact data of advocacy groups, and assume direct access to large numbers of Canadians with an explicit understanding of their primary policy interest. The bargain that will have to be established should be fair. The post leadership Supporters should be granted a genuine opportunity to help shape the next election platform. Provided the sign-up remains free, and that the bargain is fair and open, it is not only possible, but it is likely that the Liberal Party will build the most comprehensive, and readily targeted political database in Canada over the next couple of years. Set a target of 2-3 million Canadian Supporters, and then make it happen. The improvements in money, volunteer hours, the high quality candidates, even the increased voter turnouts will be significant. The competitive advantage will only happen once, because the Dippers, and Conservatives will follow the Liberal lead pretty darned quickly, but we can worry about winning in 2020 when we get to 2019. It will be a lot easier to contemplate after 4 plus years of a Liberal majority.
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Filed under: Election Tactics, Electoral Data, Liberal Leadership Contest, Political Strategy | Tagged: Leadership race, Liberal Party, political organizing | 5 Comments »