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.
Filed under: election readiness, Electoral Data, Electoral Finance, Fundraising, Liberal Leadership Contest, Organizing, Political Strategy | Tagged: election readiness, Leadership race, Liberal Party, political organizing |