The Liberal Party Supporter category: Takach gets it. Does anybody else?

Yesterday I read a Toronto Star article entitled: How federal Liberals are using leadership race to get back in the game.

The premise of the article is that the new supporter category is a game changer for the Liberal Party, and that this late entry into the data collection business holds the promise of future relevancy for the Liberal Party.

`The Liberals aren’t just conducting a leadership contest. They are also using this race to engage in a massive, data-collection exercise — a catch-up effort. In the last couple of elections, the Conservatives and New Democrats have surged far ahead of the Liberals in this cutting-edge aspect of modern electioneering.` The article goes on to highlight some interesting facts not generally available to the public, for example, there have been over 40,000 supporters signed up by the Liberal Party, and the fact that Liberalist, the centrally managed and maintained database has only got data on approximately 1.3 million Canadians. Well all I can say to that depressing piece of news is that there are another 20 million Canadians to go, so the Liberal Party better get it`s shit together fast, because there are almost 1 million Canadians to contact every month between now and the next election. The sheer scope of the basic task aside, there was one interesting aspect of the article that gives me hope that the Liberal Party can actually build a winning campaign with the time they have in hand, and of all people, it is George Takach who really does seem to get it.

You see, the modern world of electoral politics is no longer about grand themes, and demographic-wide sweeping policy statements that `wow` huge segments of the electorate into voting for a Party. It is about identifying and understanding subsets of the electorate, communicating directly with smaller groups of often highly motivated voters, and winning their support in terms of volunteering, donating money, and proselytising for the Party. I have seen plenty of discussion about the supporter category within Liberal Party ranks. The discussion basically falls into two categories, on the one hand many Liberals seem to think it is a good idea that will draw in `new blood`, and shake things up a little. On the other hand we have the fossils who I would judge feel that it threatens their hard-won positions of influence within the Party. The surface arguments from this camp generally seem to consist of the idea that people can just go ahead and join, which means that there will be undeserving, or even hostile influences on the Liberal Party inherent in the `Trojan Horse`supporters. What I have seen very little of is a serious discussion about WHY it is that the Liberal Party has such a crappy database, and HOW it is that the Liberal Party can actually joint the real world of electoral politics. Seriously, I was having my doubts that the Liberal Party even has a clue about what has happened to them, until I read that what George Takach had to say about his leadership campaign.

Full disclosure, at this point in time, I anticipate casting my supporter ballot for Justin Trudeau, but that surely does not mean that I will be wanting to throw out the baby with the bath water once this Leadership contest is over. The baby in the bath water is George`s idea that he can target a specific community of interest, online gamers. He proposes: “There are a million and a half gamers in this country, most of them between the ages of 18 and 35. Right now they’re apolitical … I’m going to reach out to them. I’m going to show them social acceptance. My agenda about a superfast Internet, a digital bill of rights, will resonate very deeply with them.” Do not get me wrong. I find the idea of riding to power on a wave of suddenly motivated online gamers to be, well, a little `out there`. But while it may not be a practical program for winning the leadership of the Liberal Party, it does go waaay beyond what the Liberal party seems to understand about the supporter category, and it`s implications for retail politics. Whether George actually corrals 100,000 gamers, or only manages to gather in 500 gamers, he will have exploited the one two punch that the Liberal party MUST master if they are to ever win an election again. He has identified a readily approached community of interests. He has created a series of policy prescriptions to appeal to that community of interests, and he is now campaigning to collect actionable data on the individual members of this community, to whit, to sign them up as supporters, donors, and activists. And get this, he is doing all this years ahead of the next general election, so there is plenty of time between now, and then to build on his successes, mitigate his failures, and generally lock up the support, volunteer hours, and chequebooks of his community of interest(s). The data that he is collecting will be permanently preserved within Liberalist. This means that at any time the Liberal Party will have the option of calling on this community with targeted message that speaks to them directly. George himself will have built himself some kind of constituency within Liberal Party supporter ranks, and for so long as he champions their interests, and has the means to make targeted communications to them, he will retain a loyal base of support, both for himself, and the Liberal Party. For those of my readers stifling a yawn right now, I invite you to consider well what the Conservative Party has achieved with, for example, the community of rural long gun owners in Canada, or the Pro-Life lobby in Canada. This is how they have built a permanent campaign machine, the richest stream of donors, and volunteers in Canadian politics. The achieved this by ignoring large-scale demographics, and homing in on politically significant communities of interests buried within the electorate, just like George is doing.

So there it is. A simple idea no? Extrapolate it a little bit, and you have a political party that comes to represent a community of communities. A political party that can count on cash and volunteers motivated by real ideas, not fuzzy vague policies developed in a commitee room at some boring convention, but ideas that have PROVEN their worth by attracting committed volunteers and supporters to the Party. The Liberal Party obviously needs to build a serious electoral database, and get the basic information on the entire Canadian electorate. There is just no way to be a Party with aspirations to govern the country without a comprehensive database of voting intentions. Now it should be (but is not yet) equally obvious that collecting more intensive, and directly actionable data based on issues, and `communities of interests` is a second pre-requisite for governing the country. It will take many millions of dollars MORE than the Liberal Party has been spending in recent elections to just retain the support level the Liberals currently enjoy. It will take thousands of committed volunteers. It will take a serious improvement in the ground game of the Liberals. It has been the CPC that showed the way to find and win the commitment of $$ and volunteer time, but so far there are only a few lonely voices in the Liberal Party that get it, and are actually doing something about it. I take my hat off to George Takach for having the cojones to go out on a limb with his `out there`idea, that is not so very out there after all. I am very curious to see whether or not the Liberal Party can recognise, and take steps to enable more people like George to set their sights on more and different communities of interests, and start building up the depth of their data, in tandem with the pure donkey work of broadening the database by getting 100% of Canadians voting intentions into Liberalist.

Vote for this post on Progressive Bloggers!

Liberalist: The Liberal Party is FINALLY fixing their greatest failure.

The real world of electoral politics has been changing for over a decade. The Liberal Party of Canada has finally, at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour noticed WHY they have all but disappeared. It boils down to the fundamentals of the new politics. Know the electorate well, and communicate with them directly. Some months ago, I became a ‘supporter’ of the Liberal Party of Canada. The reason I did so, was because it appeared that the Liberal Party was finally coming out of their fossilized shell, and adapting to the new reality. The evidence I had to go on was that the rhetoric of change emanating from the Liberal AGM was being matched by a concrete measure, the creation of the supporter category within Liberal membership ranks, and the breaking up of the very local monopoly on electoral databases in favour of a centrally administered database called Liberalist.

Historically, databases and lists of members and supporters within the Liberal umbrella were (and are) a critical tool in the only game that seemed to count within the Liberal Party. To whit, Leadership contests, and the internal battle for control of the natural governing party. As such they were jealously guarded from fellow Liberals, and sharing those names and contacts was a guaranteed ticket to irrelevancy for the ‘holder’ of the data.  While the Conservative Party of Canada spent the last 10 years single-mindedly enriching their CIMS centrally managed database(s), the Liberals were recruiting phony rent-a-member recruits, and jealously guarding their names in readiness for the next round of the leadership battle. I have certain knowledge that even at a constituency level, election canvas results were hoarded as a weapon for candidates to use in the battle to control the local EDA. Fact is, the distribution of power across electoral districts, regional organisations, provincial divisions, and then even to the discrete factions vying for control of these rinky dink units prohibited the creation and maintenance of the most important tool for organising for, and contesting general elections. Now that the Liberal Party is clearly NOT the natural governing party, the prize of leadership is an empty chalice. I have an inkling that the sensibility that: “If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately” has at last set itself deeply into the party structures at all levels.

So, pray-tell what is the evidence that this is the case? Well the most compelling evidence is the very existence of Liberalist, and the fact that it is being populated with new data. The supporter category introduced for the first time with the current leadership contest is the direct evidence that I have. The Liberal Party is drilling this message into the EDA structure, and has offered an enormous reward to Leadership campaigns that embrace it. Supporters are entitled to vote for the next leader of the Liberal Party. The threshold for becoming a supporter is pretty low. To be enrolled, one has to click a link like this one, fill in your postal code, name, and email address, and voila, you are a supporter! So what good is that to the Liberal Party, if all you need to do is like them enough to label yourself supporter? Well, one at a time it is useless. Multiply it by thousands of people prepared to self identify as someone with an affinity for the Liberal Party, and you have just enriched the basic name number and address that every Political party already owns. The requirement for an email address provides the means to communicate directly more or ;ess for free. The incentive for leadership candidates to stuff this data into liberalist in bulk is going to enrich the whole Party permanently. The data is rolling in as I write, and Liberalist will NEVER stop growing, just so long as the Liberal Party keeps making it very easy to ‘sign up’.

So here we are, the centralised tool exists, and it looks like it is such a useful tool that all Liberal organisations will rely on it to manage and retain their data. Collection, retention, and sharing of data is a necessary condition for joining the real world of electoral politics, but it is NOT a sufficient condition. The sufficient condition lies in the application of the data to the tasks at hand. Somebody in the Liberal Party obviously understand this, and is in a position to take the next (baby) steps with it. You see, the tool itself becomes sharper and more effective as you populate it with richer and richer data at the individual contact level. It is not enough to have a name, address, and phone number. You need to be able to communicate directly and as cheaply as possible directly with each contact. Hence the need for email address from new supporters. You need to be able to single out collections of individuals based on more sophisticated criteria. What you need is a lot of RELEVANT information about masses and masses of people, so that you can tailor mass communications to people who will be receptive to your message. The next step is to take the data, no matter how shallow it is, and to both make practical use of it, and enrich it with additional actionable information at the individual level. This is happening, and I have been very chuffed to see it succeeding so quickly.

So how the heck does a mere supporter, with no real connections or pipeline to the Liberal Party structure know that it is succeeding? I signed up as a supporter, and I can attest to the use to which the Liberal Party has put that teensy nugget of information I gave them about myself. Over the past few months, I have received occasional communications via the email address I provided. There was the expected automated ‘welcome new supporter’ email at the time of enrollment. It was followed by infrequent communications, from the leader, from individual Liberal executives, all of them with a modest request, maybe an ask for a small donation, and a policy message of some sort associated with the ask. What that tells me is that the Liberal Party has incorporated my name into a program of enriching their data about myself. I can guarantee that everybody who responded to a specific ask, connected with a specific policy or issue, will be ‘tagged’ in the database as responsive to this issue. The asks have not been overbearing. They did not ask me to sacrifice my life for the Liberal cause, they merely tried to obtain a small action from me to certify my affinity with that specific message. The typical $5 contribution is NOT the objective of the ask, it is the funky and essential BY-PRODUCT of enriching the database. The $5 is what pays for the process of finding out what hundreds, and thousands, and soon to be hundreds of thousands of Canadians care about, and WHY they deem themselves Liberal supporters. Those who pop $1,000 onto their credit cards when thrown a soft pitch about a specific issue have just qualified themselves as deeply motivated and concerned about that issue.

And HOW do I know that the process is working? Because the Liberal party is not hoarding the info. They are freely offering a report card on the success of the supporter category. Think for a little bit about the above process I am describing. It is not an isolated event, it is a systematic effort to continuously grow both the breadth (numbers of names) and the depth (affinities and added information about those names) of Liberalist data. I have three emails from 3 different Liberal luminaries over the past three days. Each one provides a total of the numbers of respondents to the pitch. here is what I LOVE TO SEE:

1) On Thursday, Anne McLennan asked me to be one of their targeted 5,000 donors of $5 (or more) and told me that there were 600 so far:

“It is a pleasure for me to be in touch with you during the holiday season.  So many of us are sending thoughtful and caring wishes for our country to the Liberal website. I hope each of the 601 wishes for Canada that donors have shared with us so far will inspire you to give. “

2) On Friday, Stephan Dion told me of the horrors of out of control F35 procurements and told me:

“In this campaign it doesn’t matter how much you give, just that you give. That’s why I’m personally thrilled that 719 Liberals just like you – including 326 who gave for the first time — have each chipped in an average of $47.71.”

3) This morning, Michael Ignatieff expanded on the horrors of the F35 procurement fiasco and told me:

“So far 1,001 Liberals like you, including 455 bold first-time donors, have told us what issue they care about. They’ve joined the fight.”

So there is the concrete evidence that the Liberal Party is well along in the process of joining the real world of electoral politics. They are systematically growing and enriching Liberalist, and as a by-product have raised tens of thousands of dollars in three days from supporters being converted into NEW DONORS. There is every reason to believe that the current leadership contest is going to add tens of thousands, or more likely hundreds of thousands of supporters to Liberalist. Many of them shall graduate to fully paid up members, volunteers, candidates, EDA executives, and field organisers for the new and improved Big Red Machine. Next Christmas we will be seeing emails telling us of hundreds of thousands of dollars, from thousands of new donors. This is the beginning of a long good-bye to the CPC’s electoral dominance in Canada.

 Vote for this post at progressive Bloggers

The Rob Ford Story: It ain’t over by a long shot.

A lot of  Torontonians are delighted, and celebrating the judgement that removed Rob Ford from the office of Mayor of Toronto. I have some bad news for them, Rob Ford will be permitted to run in a by-election, and he will win. Note that I am not qualifying my statement by saying he will probably win, or there is a good chance of it. The odds are more like 5:1 in favour of a Rob Ford victory.

Yes, I know that the past two years have been a continuous parade of buffoonery. That he was removed by a judge would be the kiss of death in most cases. Especially considering the facts surrounding the case.  Yes, I know that to a reasonable person, he is not qualified to run the city, but election results, ( or by-elections in this case) are determined by counting ballots cast on election day. Don’t forget that the buffoonery pre-dates his mayoral election. Drunken cursing of an elderly couple at the Maple Leaf Gardens that he lied about. The Drunk driving and marijuana possession in Florida that he lied about. etc. etc. etc. The voters did not care and they gave him a mandate in 2010, so what is so different today?

Municipal elections normally have pretty dismal turnouts. In 2003, the turnout was 38%. In 2006 the turnout was 39%. However, in 2010, Ford won the Mayoralty from a whopping turnout of 53.2%! This turnout was no accident. Behind Rob Ford is Doug Ford, and the most impressive political and electoral database and organisation in Toronto. That database includes thousands of very committed Ford volunteers. (That is not hyperbole, the Fords had 5,000 volunteers within a week of announcing his intention to run in the spring of 2010). The turnout was comparatively massive because something had changed in Toronto, and that change came to be called ‘Ford Nation’.

So there it is, Rob Ford won in 2010 because he mobilised a huge slice of the electorate to get out and vote for FORD. We have all been reading the news since then, the seemingly endless gong-show of gaffes, fumbles, minor outrages, outright lies, which in our past experience should add up to terminate the Mayors career. But something different has happened. That highly motivated base of supporters has NOT withered away. Back in May, in the midst of one of the bozo eruptions where the Mayor threatened and charged at a Toronto Star reporter, the Mayors approval rating dropped to 41%. If you think that is old news, and that judicial removal from office should do the trick, current, and credible polls would SEEM to bear this out, but in fact they don’t.

If you look at the story on this poll, you will think I am nuts. How could I possibly argue that Rob Ford can overcome such dismal approval ratings? Because 16% of the electorate are still very strong supporters of Rob Ford, and 11% are likely supporters. That is enough for a disciplined campaign to win, because things are NOT as they seem. You see, it does not matter how many people respond to an opinion poll in a given way. What matters are the mechanical details about mobilising voters to cast a ballot. What matters is which people get out on E-day, and whose name the X goes next to.

Turnout is the biggest factor in play. In a normal Municipal election, there are actually 4 races going on at once. Mayor, Council, Public School Board, and Separate School board trustees. That gives the voters four reasons to get their butts down to the polling booth. A whole lot of people go to vote because their buddy is running for council, or trustee. Another slice goes to vote because they are motivated to vote AGAINST a council, trustee etc candidate. ( That bastard stole my lunch money in Grade 5).  While they are there, they mark an X by a Mayoral candidates name.  Then there are civic-minded citizens doing their electoral duty, a decided minority I might add. In a Mayoral by-election, only those motivated by the Mayoral vote, and a small number of civic-minded will go to the polls.  Bang, turnout drops significantly, and casual Mayoral votes will not go into the box. Assuming the by-election will happen fairly quickly, we are likely to see a vote in perhaps February, or maybe March. Guess what, it is COLD and nasty at that time of year. If E-Day is on a cold or wet Monday, Bang, turnout drops dramatically. Ford Nation does not mind cold and rainy days though. Ford nation does not much care about smelly old council and trustee candidates. Ford Nationers belong to something. They care very much, and just as importantly, Ford Nation has an electoral MACHINE that will get them on the march on E-day.

Right, the electoral machine. What’s with that anyway? I mean, everybody seems to be saying such nasty things about Ford. The polls show that masses of people do not want him to be Mayor. What does some electoral gimmickry have to do with that? Simple, any electoral campaign that depends upon turnouts of motivated supporters, needs to be able to contact, identify, and motivate people to Get Out and Vote. If there is indeed a by-election, it shall happen quickly, and that is a huge boon to Ford. A normal municipal race happens on a fixed date every 4 years. The contenders prepare their plans slowly, cautiously weigh their chances, and gradually build a supporter network, funding commitments, and volunteer base. They mull over issues and policies, all in preparation for the main event. This by-election will feature none of the above. It shall be a come-as-you-are party. Olivia Chow is touted (reasonably) as the only viable alternate to Rob Ford, but even if she has been working towards that end for months, she does not have a machine in place, ready to ID and GOTV at the drop of a pin. The Fords on the other hand, have already moved into election mode. Phone banks are in action at this moment, contacting volunteers, polling to determine which supporters from 2010 can be counted on, and which have turned traitor, and should be persuaded to stay at home somehow. The Ford campaign will be fully funded within 24 hours of a by-election call. There will be thousands of dedicated volunteers door knocking, endlessly pounding the phones, attending rallys, and generally whooping it up.

Then there is the problem of a crowded field. I believe that all it takes to actually run for Mayor is a $1000 deposit. There are always a number of ambitious people, (Karen Stintz, Olivia Chow, Adam Vaughan, etc) both on City council, and in the City at large who are planning, or hoping to run in 2014. I can think of a number off the top of my head that are seeing their dreams of occupying the BIG CHAIR after 2014 in jeopardy at this moment. How many of them will say the hell with it, I am going for broke in the by-election? All it will take is two or more viable candidates running against Ford to nullify the ‘anything but Ford’ vote of casual voters.

So there it is, my argument that Rob Ford will likely win the upcoming by-election for Mayor of Toronto. His substantial base of dedicated supporters will be moved to volunteer and vote by a well oiled political machine. The antipathy to Rob Ford expressed by the Toronto electorate will not translate to a strong turnout of his opponents on E-Day. The RELATIVELY low centrist and left-wing turnout will divide their vote between 3 or 4 candidates, allowing Rob Ford to win the election with somewhere around 40% -45% of the ballots cast. You may not like it, but unless at least some of the things discussed above change, the outcome is quite predictable.

%d bloggers like this: