Uh-oh. I read this article on Friday and it got right under my skin. Taken together with past statements by Justin Trudeau that he would not allow negative attacks on the Conservatives ( or presumably the NDP), I am wondering if I find myself back in Green Party Land, where warm and fuzzy thinking replaces serious analysis, organizing, and campaign planning at the decision making level? On the negative advertising front, well I don`t know. Maybe their is some substantial research extant that positive messages can be just as effective as vote suppression measures when it comes to winning elections. Without a serious quantitative analysis, I guess I am prepared to say, sure, give it a shot. Bt when it comes to labelling an analytical tool as negative?
Here`s the quote that has me worried:
`But it’s not just attack ads Trudeau is promising to eschew. He’s rejecting the entire thesis that successful political marketing means identifying potential supporters and then targeting those sympathetic segments of the population with messages tailored specifically to their concerns.
The Conservatives have used that approach successfully in Canada, as have Democrats in the United States to elect President Barack Obama.
Trudeau acknowledged that “micro-targeting” of voters is “an extremely effective way of doing politics.”
But he contended it’s a negative approach in a country as diverse as Canada. And, as practiced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, he maintained it has exacerbated regional, linguistic, cultural and religious tensions and ultimately made Canada harder to govern.”
Oh dear, please say it aint so. Communicating with people based on what topics interest them is hardly divisive is it? I mean, seriously, what the heck are you going to talk to Canadians about if you do not want to find out what turns their cranks? Big Data, and segmenting is about methodology, and organising principles. It is a systematic way of viewing the electorate in the aggregate. In other words, it is about how you view large collections of individuals. You can stick with very broad definitions like the traditional demographic groupings, like male or female, age brackets, or geographic locations, but the fact remains that these are simply proxies to assist in identifying issues that interest them. In past generations, it was assumed that being 65 years old meant that you would be totally absorbed by pensions, old age benefits and other old people`issues. Now that the tools exist to parse those demographics further, why would anybody want to retain broad proxies for what people actually think? Why not group people specifically by what actually interests them, and skip the broad demographic groupings altogether? By grouping the electorate by affinities, and issues of interest, and then mapping those segments onto geographic locations for electoral purposes, you can stop wasting resources broadcasting one size fits all messages, and focus directly on bringing your IDEAS to the people whom they are intended to help. Further than that, you can go POSITIVE in a BIG WAY, by engaging Canadians on the topics that interest them most. The tools exist to engage a much larger community than just the Liberal party supporters and members. What could be more positive than focusing on people who are most interested in policy, and asking for their help in creating the very best policies possible?
What you choose to do with your data can be called negative, or positive I guess, but how the heck does changing the way you group your data become negative? The Conservatives have micro-segmented, and exploited some of those segments for the purpose of suppressing their votes and their interest in voting Liberal or NDP. That doesn`t mean that there is anything wrong with the methodology. I am absolutely convinced that if the Liberal Party fails to take advantage of the technology that enables micro-targeting and individualised communications, they are doomed to irrelevance. Doomed not in the long run, but immediately. Like in the next general election. I was excited by Trudeau`s assertion that ALL nominations would be open and contested. It is another great tool to build memebrship, and more importantly to gather and engage ever more supporters in rebuilding the Liberal Party. `Yep, Trudeau gets it` I said to myself. I hope that I have misunderstood this quote, or over-interpreted it, because it does not sound like someone who understands the true impact of a technological shift on electoral politics.
So in conclusion I offer this rebuttal of Trudeau’s rejection of micro targeting as `negative`. If the Liberal Party is truly going to try to engage the electorate. If the Liberal Party is truly going to engage Canadians in positive politics, it is incumbent on the Liberal Party to find out what interests individual Canadians the most, and then engage them more deeply on precisely those terms. Far from being negative, I believe that the most effective means of going positive lies in carefully managing your data, and bringing your message to those who are most interested in it.