Campaigns really DO Matter: Robocalls, Polling and the electoral impact of Big Data

Two weeks ago, British Columbians were preparing to cast their ballots in an election that was widely expected to be  the NDP’s to lose. You see, public opinion polls on voting intentions had been published showing an almost insurmountable gap between the NDP and the second place Liberals. The polls were mostly properly conducted, they reflected the stated intentions of representative, and sizeable samples of the BC Electorate. The condidtions for accurate polling were in place, but lo and behold, when the votes were counted, the Liberals had achieved a bare majority, apparently snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. This was not the first time that publicly released polls of voting intentions missed the boat big time. In the Alberta Provincial election, the Wildrose Party went from top of the polls, to a pretty sorry second place at the finish line. In the last Quebec election, the Liberals evaded a much ballyhooed oblivion with a strong last-minute finish. There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth over the ‘failure’ of the publicly released polls to accurately predict an election, and untold column inches spilled over analysis of how to compensate for turnouts, and what sampling methodology is failing and what is working. Well in my opinion, the answer is as simple as the headline from this (absolutely correct) CBC Article: “B.C. election proved campaigns matter more than ever

It is worth noting that in all three Provincial Elections with surprising results, it was the incumbent, Governing Party that defied the odds. Is that a coincidence? IMHO, that is not coincidental. You see, it is the premise of this post that we are living in a New World of Electoral Politics. This world is where big databases are parsed and segmented according to tastes, preferences, affinities, and location. This is the world where elections are won or lost by closely targeting very specific groups of voters, crafting, testing, and verifying the message that can sway these micro-groups. Delivering that message effectively ON TARGET and building the support of a bare plurality, one riding at a time is the primary objective. This world is highly dynamic. It focuses on electors who are undecided, or relatively uncertain of their first choice in voting intentions. In such a world, it is incredibly important to understand what motivates small, select, and distinct groups of the electorate. A little appreciated fact of life in Canada is that Governments have nearly infinite resources for opinion polling, focus groups, and acquiring sophisticated datasets about target groups. It is not surprising to me that the results of untold millions of dollars worth of Government funded opinion research are considered a  State secret. In  nutshell, the incumbent will always have a massive advantage in any election, inasmuch as they can easily assemble a complete picture of who can be motivated by which message long before the writ is dropped, and the electorate is in play.

So what do Robocalls have to do with this post? Robocalls are a big data communications tool. As has been illustrated by the recent finding in the robocalls law suit, it is easy to abstract list of contacts based upon any number of variables (Like which Party they support). The mechanics of targeting and launching a robocall campaign, whether large or small is as simple as falling out of bed. And the cost of robocalling is so damned cheap, that virtually any political party that possesses a robust electoral database can flood the phone lines with negative messages for pennies a pop. It is not just robocalls. Robocalls are mildly irritating to the recipients, so their best use is to sway the OTHER sides voters with them. They are tailor-made for vote suppression tactics, like pointing out the opponents failings to his or her supporters. Email communications are an even more versatile tool, because they are even cheaper than robocalls, and they are good for positive, vote winning communications with reams of people on short notice. Then there are more conventional message delivery media, like direct mail, admail, live telephone calling, door to door foot canvas, and at the broadest level of all, targeted print and broadcast media buys. These all have one thing in common, that their efficacy improves dramatically when they are targeted based on issues research, and solid information on large numbers of electors.

Campaigns are dynamic events, and they DO matter. When the media commissions a voting intention poll, they are basically paying for a snapshot, at a moment in time, and the snapshot they are taking is intended to reflect an amalgam of the entire electorate. The individual campaigns couldn`t really care less about what the entire electorate is thinking. They are focusing on small subsets of the electorate, and directly influencing them to vote one way or another, or even not to vote at all. The effective campaigns have access to hard data on what messages will work with what segment of the electorate, and there are multiple campaigns each working on influencing small numbers of voters to tip one way or another. There is just no way for low-budget media bought voting intention polls to keep up, and accurately predict what is actually going to happen, because the decisions and actions that will determine the election result are happening under their radar. All this campaigning is happening in real-time, and it can be extremely effective. Campaigns are each working simultaneously on different population segments, so polling for, and capturing the significant movements is kind of like trying to model next weeks weather. There are just too many variables interacting to draw any useful conclusions. The media polls are not focused on the groups that are actually in play, and there is no way that a polling company can predict just what kind of voter suppression, and voter conversion campaigns are happening, and how effective they are. This is perfectly illustrated by a quote from this CBC Article interviewing the BC Liberals internal pollster, Dimitri Pantazopoulos:   `”At the end of the day the more important thing is understanding what motivates people to vote, and how to actually communicate with people and what are the underlying factors that will turn the undecideds one way or another.” And you know something? Dimitri was the one measuring the effectiveness of the BC Liberal Campaign, so I am perfectly willing to take his word for it.

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The Green Party demostrating strategic and tactical smarts on Vancouver Island

The Greens are running a tight ship on Vancouver Island these days. In the wake of Andrew Weavers win in Oak Bay Gordon Head on behalf of the BC Green Party, I decided to have a closer look at the BC Provincial election results in the Victoria area.

Knowing so little about BC Politics, I trotted off to find the Provincial riding maps, and past Provincial election results in the area. From that point it was a quick and simple matter to visually contrast the Provincial riding maps and compare them to the Federal ridings. You see, the typical Green supporter does not really differentiate between the Provincial and Federal Green Party’s in their area. A Federal Green voter is extremely likely to vote Green Provincially, so it would be reasonable to expect that the $million plus that the Green Party of Canada has sunk into Saanich Gulf Islands would be reflected in the Provincial results. The bulk of that money has been spent over the past 4 years in staffing offices in SGI, and systematically building supporter lists in the district.

In November 2012, Donald Galloway representing the Green Party of Canada ran a hotly contested campaign to win the Federal riding of Victoria, which is immediately adjacent to SGI. As I have posted before, the Greens have become extremely good at mobilizing volunteers from across the country to work virtual phone banks for a targeted canvas. In essence, they bombard their supporter lists with emailed invitations to volunteer to telephone canvas from their homes. It is very easy for volunteers, basically they get an emailed link to log in to the canvassing database. They log in, a name and phone number pops onto their screen, alongside a simple script, and they start dialling and recording voting intentions. Whether they work for 10 minutes, or 10 hours, all the data they collect is automatically preserved, and has gotten the campaign that much closer to identifying all their prospective supporters in the area. It takes literally tens of thousands of volunteer hours to fully canvas a riding. The biggest stumbling block for building up identified voters lists is the sheer volume of work involved in actually knocking on all those doors, or dialling all those phone numbers. By calling on hundreds of volunteers from all across the country, the local GP campaign can focus on key objectives, while the donkey work of identifying, and subsequently getting out the vote can be handled by volunteers from far and wide. Well the Green ID and GOTV virtual phone bank was firing on all cylinders on behalf of both Galloway in Victoria, and Turner in Calgary Centre by-elections. Galloway ran a strong campaign, in the riding adjacent to Elizabeth May’s stronghold of SGI. He was able to call on hundreds of local volunteers, and the Federal Party infrastructure of paid staffers and offices just across the riding boundary. The upshot of all those resources being mobilized to support a strong candidate, and a strong EDA was a pretty close second place finish with over 34% of the popular vote in Victoria.

So fast forward to the BC Provincial election 6 months later, and you can see the strategy of building an Island stronghold being implemented. At this point I wish I knew how to create poll level maps, and a geo coded database of vote results. But I don’t, so I will have to support my argument with fuzzier information and generalized conclusions. Have no fear, a poll by poll analysis will bear me out, but I am both too lazy, and insufficiently skilled to actually do all that work.

First of all, in BC, the Provincial riding boundaries are not really related to the Federal boundaries. The Federal Electoral Districts have 2-3 times the population as a Provincial riding.  As a result, the Federal Saanich Gulf Islands for example incorporates the entirety of one Provincial riding, and pokes into significant corners of  two more. The same holds true for the federal Victoria riding. So between SGI, and Victoria, there are larger, or smaller overlaps with 5 Provincial ridings. The Green Party of BC put their strongest candidates into ridings where the Greens had thoroughly canvassed, and identified large numbers of supporters federally through GPC campaigns.

Adam Olsen, who is a well recognised 2 term city councillor in Central Saanich ran for the BC Greens in Saanich North and the Islands. This riding is completely within the boundaries of SGI federally. Jane Sterk, Leader of the BC Greens ran in Victoria Beacon Hill, which is completely within the boundaries of Victoria federally. Andrew Weaver, a very well known Professor at U Vic ran in Oak Bay Gordon Head, which is split between Victoria and SGI Federally, while the relatively weak candidate in Victoria Swan Lake was Spencer Malthouse (my apologies Spencer), in a riding that overlaps with Victoria Federally.

The results are laid out in the table below. Please note the growth in Green Party of BC votes were exceptionally strong where the riding boundaries overlapped with SGI, and a lesser extent where the overlaps were with Victoria.

 

BC Green Party LIBERAL NDP
2009 2013 2009 2013 2009 2013
Federal Overlaps with: Provincial Riding Votes % Votes % GROWTH Votes Votes Votes Votes
SGI & Victoria Oak Bay Gordon Head 2152 8.91% 9602 40.09% 346.19% 11266 7124 10736 6772
SGI Saanich North & Islands 3016 10.91% 9294 31.86% 208.16% 12513 9629 12118 9681
Esquimault-Juan de Fuca & SGI Saanich South 1551 6.56% 3612 15.16% 132.88% 10728 8473 11141 10824
Victoria Victoria Beacon Hill 3768 16.64% 7852 33.72% 108.39% 5998 3981 12591 11335
Esquimault-Juan de Fuca Juan de Fuca 1645 8.53% 3253 15.46% 97.75% 6624 6513 11008 11272
Victoria Victoria Swan Lake 2459 12.01% 4502 22.62% 83.08% 5456 4509 12389 10891
Nanaimo-Cowichan Cowichan Valley 2807 11.64% 4662 18.79% 66.08% 8734 8786 11575 9923
Nanaimo-Alberni & Nanaimo Cowichan Nanaimo North Cowichan 2004 8.96% 3043 13.41% 51.85% 7956 6984 12159 10538
Vancouver Island North Comox Valley 2338 8.56% 3292 11.48% 40.80% 13016 12817 11593 11024
Esquimault-Juan de Fuca Esquimalt Royal Roads 3370 16.71% 4486 21.61% 33.12% 6098 5959 10705 9997
Nanaimo-Alberni & Nanaimo Cowichan Nanaimo 1852 8.96% 2198 10.53% 18.68% 7497 7812 11057 9548
Vancouver island North North Island 1561 7.25% 0 0.00% -100.00% 8411 8862 11232 10595
Nanaimo-Alberni & Nanaimo Cowichan Alberni Pacific Rim 1250 7.41% 0 0.00% -100.00% 5373 5981 10007 9829
Nanaimo-Alberni Parksville Qualicum 2465 9.57% 0 0.00% -100.00% 13265 13405 9803 9899

 

As you can see, over a 4 year period, the Green vote grew appreciably in every riding on the Island. If you look at the raw vote counts though, you will see that the truly impressive growth was happening in ridings where the Greens were strongest to begin with. In short, the possession of a strong ground game, access to extensive supporter and voter lists, and the mobilization of a nationwide virtual phone bank in support of a campaign is sufficient to propel the Greens within striking distance of winning in select ridings.

The implications for the next General election in 2015 are twofold. Locally, on the island itself, we can expect to see a concerted effort to continue to build on past successes. Provincial, Federal, and Municipal Greens will be co-ordinating and sharing resources in an un-precedented way. SGI will be an easy win for Elizabeth May, and Victoria and Esquimault-Juan de Fuca will be squarely in the GPC`s sights. I fully expect that there will be stronger campaigns in ALL the Vancouver Island ridings, and the process of building a regional stronghold will continue.

The wider implications are that the Greens will be paying a LOT more attention to Federal By-Elections. I would expect that Calgary Centre will have a well funded and organized campaign in 2015, based upon their excellent showing in the November By-Election. I doubt very much that the GPC will spend a nickel on the upcoming Bourassa by-election in Quebec, but they will be weighing their future chances in any riding where a by-election is going to be called. With a few months heads up, they are now fully capable of pledging the monetary support to entice a strong local Candidate. With the proven ability to mobilize a seriously massive volunteer phone canvas, they can strategically use a by-election build the local electoral database in preparation for the general election in 2015. In this respect, the Green Party is incrementally creating the conditions to win in a handful of ridings come 2015. I for one will be following their efforts with interest.

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BC Liberals Advertising for the Greens in Victoria!

Vote Green! Brought to you by the BC Liberals

Vote Green! Brought to you by the BC Liberals

I was tooling around on Facebook this morning, and some of my Green Party of BC FaceBook friends were talking about this full-page advertisement for Jane Sterk and the BC Greens in the Times Colony. You know, one of the most read newspapers on Vancouver Island. The thing is, this advertisement is bought and paid for by the BC Liberals. What I know about Provincial politics in BC could fit into a medium-sized tea-cup. I do know that it is a hypercompetitive, take no prisoners environment, and this ad highlights that fact. The purpose of the ad is obvious. The Liberal Party believes that the NDP and Greens are feeding from the same plate. There are two tactical outcomes this ad is promoting. The most favourable would be that the NDP and Green split is even enough that the Liberals can achieve a plurality in some, or all of the Island ridings. The second, deeper game is that the Greens should tip the balance and elect Andrew Weaver MPP for Oak Bay. This secondary objective denies the seat to the NDP, and establishes a Green presence in the Legislature.

The benefit of that first outcome is obvious. Every dipper who votes Green is one vote closer to the coveted Governing Mandate for the BC Liberals. The second outcome is useful in a tactical sense, (Like helping decide whether the Liberals or the NDP have more seats on E-Day). Strategically, there is probably some more subtle thinking at play. If there is not, there surely ought to be!  The most likely winning Green candidate, Andrew Weaver (Oak Bay – Gordon Head) is a heavy hitter. His election to the BC Assembly will represent a coming of age for the BC Greens. There is no doubt that adding Provincial representation to the Federal presence of Elizabeth May will be a big boon to building up a considerably stronger regional Green stronghold in BC. There will be another constituency office, staffed to the max, generating plenty of column inches in earned media over the coming years. The BC Greens definitely eat from the same plate as the NDP. If the BC Greens do in fact elect Weaver, then the Greens are going to consolidate that win, gain credibility, and build for the next election from a much stronger base. The BC Liberals will be a major beneficiary of a stronger BC Green Party, as the bulk of the growth in Green support will come at the expense of the NDP. Put it all together, and an enhanced BC Green Party will in the long run be a huge boon to the BC Liberals. The implications for the Federal Liberals in BC are a little more ambiguous. You see, they have serious prospects of eating from the same plate as the Greens and Dippers come 2015, so strengthening the Green brand in BC will cost them only a little less than it costs the Dippers, but that federal analysis will have to wait for a more opportune time.

Anyway, I think that most of what I said here today is pretty obvious and un-remarkable. What was remarkable to me is this big media buy by one Party on behalf of another Party in a General Election. I think it is unprecedented, can anybody else think of similar examples? I would be interested in knowing, as a student of the dark arts of Canadian electoral politics, lol.

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Whither the Green Party? Probable Strategy for 2015

I just took a gander at the Elections Canada databases to see the current state of the Green Party EDA`s. Like them or not, the Green Party remains a factor, and their 2015 campaign will play a role in determining the outcome of the 2015 election. I have a couple of general observations to make, and I have to say that the Green Party has some very impressive strengths, and some very telling weaknesses. It will sound like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, but I will demonstrate why I expect that the GPC will have a very successful 2015 election, while at the same time they will have a greatly reduced impact on the outcome of the next general election. Be patient with me, and I will amply prove both points.

Back in January, I posted on the cynicism of Elizabeth Mays offers and entreaties for electoral co-operation with the Dippers and Liberals. The crux of my argument was that the Green Party will have a much smaller impact in 2015 because they will probably not be running a full slate of candidates. Every electoral district that they fail to field a candidate in will not have a single ballot cast for the Greens, so their impact in those ridings will be limited to a small number of disappointed Greens who fail to vote at all, while the balance of their voters cast a ballot for their second choice party. For those ridings where they do field a candidate, they will not have anywhere near the kinds of resources that they have had in the two or three past elections. That is primarily due to the loss of the per vote subsidy, which represented the lions share of the money accumulated in local Electoral District Associations coffers. (The Green Party used a fund sharing formula which forwarded a generous chunk of the subsidy funds to the EDA in which the underlying votes were earned). In fact, I can tell you with certainty that the majority of Canada’s GPC EDA`s were only incorporated for the purpose of receiving those per vote subsidies in the first place. The loss of the subsidy will result in folding up the EDA in a great many instances.

A second significant loss of resources was that a great many EDA`s spent relatively big money on the last general election, but then failed to achieve the 10% threshold to receive a 60% rebate of their electoral expenses. This had a dis-proportionate effect on the financial resources of some of the strongest EDA`s in the country. That impact will show up in the next general election in the form of weak campaigns in many places where  the GPC was once strong. These dozen or two ridings will deserve special attention by the Liberal Party and the NDP because there will be approximately 5%-6% of the electorate up for grabs there. In my books, that big of a shift in that many ridings has national significance.

The third factor to take into account is the lack of field organising infrastructure within the GPC, and the related lack of incentive to expend resources on recruiting and assisting a full slate of Candidates in 2015. Elizabeth May has done many good and effective things at the GPC. The greatest failing of her version of the GPC is the total lack of interest in building local infrastructure. I will not go into the facts that underly this conclusion, you can search the archives of this blog if you want names, dates, and details on the lack of field organising. Suffice it to say that I was intimately aware of the circumstances, and this conclusion is not idle. The main reason why the GPC has run a full slate of candidates in the past was to earn the per vote subsidy that came along with every vote. That is why there were so many `ghost`candidates, whose names appeared on the ballot, but who spent $200, and canvassed a few people at their favourite coffee shop, while calling it a campaign. The loss of the per vote subsidy eliminates the incentive for the Green Party to field a full slate of candidates, and the loss of the subsidy removes the incentive to even have a local EDA. I seriously doubt that the Party will create a field organising team, and dedicate real resources to run a full slate minus the incentive of the subsidy.

There is one piece of  objective evidence that my contentions are true. The number of registered Electoral District Associations has been in a steady decline since the last actual real field organiser was fired back in 2009. (She did her job TOO WELL! She actually formed a lot of EDA`s and the head office wanted to keep the per vote subsidy in their coffers, not flowing to Quebec EDA`s). I have updated the table below to reflect the 5 Electoral District Associations that have been de-certified by Elections Canada so far in 2013. Believe me, the trickle is going to turn into a flood by the end of this year. Please note that there have been a grand total of 10 EDA`s formed since 2009. That is pretty serious evidence that there is zero field organising capacity at the GPC, given the hundreds of ridings with no organisation at all.

  GPC EDA formation
Year Registrations Deregistrations
2004 96 1
2005 35 5
2006 24 13
2007 56 3
2008 16 5
2009 48 9
2010 4 44
2011 2 19
2012 4 18
2013 0 6
Total: 285 123

So that summarises my case that the GPC will have a greatly reduced impact on the outcome of the 2015 general election. Now I shall move on te the case that the GPC will have a very succesful 2015 election result.

The Green Party has had an internal conflict between the centre, (The HUB), and the peripheries, (The EDA`s) just about forever. The conflict was over general election strategies. One side arguing that the Beachhead strategy which should be to focus resources on a small number of key ridings, and actually getting a member of Parliament elected there. The other side argued for a `rising tide`strategy, which supported building electoral capacity in EDA`s across the country. This strategy anticipated ever stronger EDA`s with ever-increasing financial, and volunteer capacity to fight future elections. A key argument in favour of field organising,a nd building the EDA`s was that the per vote subsidy could be leveraged by collecting as much low hanging fruit as possible across the whole nation. It was easily proven that spending $1000 in a small riding would win more votes than adding an extra $1000 to the campaign budget in a strong riding. Well this argument is over, done, dead. beachhead wins hands down, so the GPC strategy for the 2015 election is as predictable as the rising of the sun.

Starting 4-1/2 years ago, the Green Party adopted the sole and over-riding objective of getting Elizabeth May elected to Parliament. These were not empty words. they did something radical (for the Greens) and actually spent some resources polling, and investigating target ridings. They then started throwing money, big money into opening multiple offices, and hiring staff located in Saanich Gulf Islands in BC. They spent well over $1million in the pre-writ period. They put the finishing touches on a database application that allows volunteers from across the country to telephone canvas into a specific riding. The 2010 election proved that ground game plus money talks, and Elizabeth may quite convincingly won the seat.

The recent by-elections in Calgary, and Victoria demonstrated the Green party has gotten pretty darned good at focusing a widely distributed National volunteer base on a specific riding. I am still on their mailing lists, so I received a lot of emails asking supporters to participate in the National Phone bank, canvassing Calgary, and Victoria in an ID-GOTV campaign. Having run such campaigns in the past, I can tell you that telephone canvass is the perfect way to ID the vote on the cheap. Volunteers are free, and the cost of long distance telephoning is pretty damned cheap too. Focusing hundreds, maybe even thousands of volunteers on a handful of ridings during a general election will instantly make the GPC competitive locally.

Elizabeth May has a very impressive network of environmental activists in her Rolodex. While local candidates are not as important as Party affiliation, and the Leadership factor in electoral outcomes, the difference between a Candidate with a nationally (or internationally) recognised name, and a 19-year-old student in a coffee shop is pretty obvious. Elizabeth May can personally recruit a handful of high quality candidates for carefully selected target ridings in 2015.

The formula for winning in SGI is not a fluke. It is a predictable outcome from having a high credibility candidate, and pouring huge money and boots on the ground into a small riding campaign. The most important criterion is the availability of money. Despite the loss of the per vote subsidy, the Green Party is growing their fundraising capacity in a very impressive manner. I blogged about it a few weeks ago, and what impresses me the most is that the increased cash flows are coming from a very systematic and disciplined fundraising process. Process is important, because it is not subject to vague fluctuations. What they are doing guarantees that they shall continue to raise ever-increasing quantities of the mother’s milk of politics, namely ca$h. They no longer need to pay the Salaries of Elizabeth May, and Adrian Carr, both of whom have salaries courtesy of their elected positions. Even local office expenses, and personal staff for those two people are being borne by taxpayers, so there is a chunky 6 figure annual savings for the GPC. Remember that the GPC does not spend money of field organising outside their target ridings, so a large chunk of the money they raise can be devoted to pre-writ spending in target ridings. Then there is the likelihood af raining a substantial loan for the next general election. Any ridings that they target with significant writ period spending will definitely exceed the 10% threshold for getting 60% of the campaign expenses back. They can borrow quite a chunk of dough, provided they can demonstrate a steady and dependable cash flow from fundraising, and they can pay much of those loans off using the proceeds of the electoral expenses rebates.

So put all these factors together, and the strategy of the GPC in 2015 becomes as clear as this mornings blue skies. They will focus on a small number of winnable ridings. Based on past history, I would bet folding money that the ridings they target will be currently held by Conservatives, and will disproportionately be located in BC, and Alberta, the GPC `strongholds`. I would guess that they will shoot for official party status in the house, but they may just rein in their ambitions a little and go for 4 or 5 certain seats as opposed to 10 maybes. With maybe a quarter $million or more in pre-writ spending per riding, a National campaign that focusses resources regionally, plus fully funded local campaigns, they will win in a number of ridings. If they limit their ambitions, there is no reason why they could not slam 5 ridings. If they want to roll the dice, they could possibly break through and achieve the coveted official party status in the H.O.C.

To wrap up this post, I will draw conclusions for the Liberal Party, and what all this means for them. When the GPC makes their target clear, (and they will long before the election), evaluate their chances carefully. If it is a smaller number of targets, then sit down and talk co-operation with the Greens. We cannot stop them from winning if they are prepared to spend millions on a small number of targets. Deal with the reality of it, and squeeze an advantage. The advantage on offer will be an endorsement of numerous Liberal Candidates by Elizabeth May and the GPC. It is true that the GPC will probably not run very many candidates outside their target ridings, for the reasons outlined above. The problem for the Liberals is that the abandoned GPC voters are more likely to vote NDP than Liberal wherever there is no GPC candidate. Elizabeth May does not like the NDP, so her instinct is going to be to cut a deal that favours the Liberals. Her endorsement could be a significant factor in attracting the lions share of the stranded GPC votes to the local Liberal rather than the local Dipper. Then of course, the post-election Parliament will hold the promise of a biddable coalition partner in the GPC. That could be critical if the Liberals achieve a strong minority, or even if they want a buffer of a few extra members to support a bare majority. If the GPC over-reaches themselves with too many targets, then the Liberal Party should think about it first. The targets will almost certainly be Conservative held ridings, so if the Liberals believe that the targets are winnable for the Liberals, then they should consider contesting them. Altogether though, I suspect that Elizabeth May is going to engineer an electoral coup in 2015, and make some form of electoral cooperation between the GPC and the Liberals a fact. And what makes this doubly impressive is that she will achieve this outcome whether she gets cooperation or not, and it will happen despite the significant reduction in the overall number of votes won by the GPC.

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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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Joyce Murray campaign is a FASCINATING example of how the Liberals can win the next election.

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?

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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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.

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