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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Actually, jury is still out on efficacy of Attack ads against Trudeau

Hmm, this is a bit embarrassing. Yesterday I posted that the Ipsos Reid poll commissioned by postmedia and CTV demonstrated that the attack ads were not working. The word I used was emphatically not working. Well I have to climb down a little (a lot) from that statement. I argued that because the sample that had seen the attack ads had significantly higher Liberal voting intentions it showed that the attack ads were actually backfiring on the CPC. Acrtually, the evidence does not suport that conclusion. The attack ads were presumably targetted at Liberal voters in the first place, given the fact that attack ads are intended to suppress support of the intended victim. That is presumably the reason why those CPC media buys were concentrated in the Maritimes, and Ontario in the first place. The proper conclusion to draw was that the CPC were effective in their targeting. To determine if the ads were effective or not, we would need to see what happened to Trudeaus support amongst that subset of the population that saw the ads.  One interesting conclusion that may still be supported by that data is the migration of support from the NDP to the Liberals in the sample of those people who had seen the attack ads prior to being surveyed:

-“Wright says the numbers indicate the ads may have actually helped the Liberals by having a handful of New Democrats “switch their soft support from the NDP to soft support for Justin Trudeau.”

Anyway, I guess we shall be reduced to reading opinion poll tea-leaves still with respect to the efficacy of attack ads, unless someone wants to spend a whack of money on a publicly released poll or survey examining the question properly. At the end of the day, that particulr Ipsos poll is just another voting intention story. Good news for Liberals no doubt, but nothing quite so earth shattering as proof that Trudeau is negating a major attack ad campaign.

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Liberal Party Organising: Integrating Facebook with Voter contact lists means GAME OVER for the Conservatives

I have blogged repeatedly on the Importance to the Liberal Party of ‘building the database’ and populating Liberalist with as many Liberal Party supporters as possible. That is step one of the critical three-step of Building the database, Engaging supporters more deeply, and effective Calls to action. Until about an hour ago, I thought that using social media like Facebook was a side-show. Basically, as far as I knew, you could do events, spread messages, and do a bunch of nifty things, but that it was a completely different data silo that was basically useless to the main task of enriching Liberalist with data about what truly motivates individual electors and supporters. BOY WAS I WRONG!

I was going to post about how I tracked back this fundraising email 10000 donors Apr26, addressed from Katie Telford, Co-Chair of the Trudeau Campaign. The email was an effective ask for $$, but it did not have any clickable html links to share with friends, to network, and help the Liberal Party to build the contact database. That was missing a great opportunity. Surely their email service providers could have provided these services for them? I wanted to learn more about the email servers, and back-end data management of the Trudeau Campaign, and by extension, what we can expect from the Liberal Party as the Trudeau Campaign spreads its influence at head office. With a little help from Google and GMAIL, I found myself on this website for NGP VAN, which is a Progressive / Democrat Party affiliated data and communications management firm based in the States.

As so often happens in the information age, following a lead put me squarely in front of something related, but un-expected. You see, I have been overly dismissive of the uses of social media for campaign purposes. Facebook is a great way to spread a message, invite people to events, and a myriad of vitally important campaign related stuff. Until about 1 hour ago, I thought that there was a fundamental problem that the data about social media contacts are isolated within a world effectively controlled by third party data vendors. In plain English, Facebook controls their users data. I did not see how all that wonderful data about the preferences, causes, friends of each individual supporter and contact could be linked directly to Liberalist. As I have posted repeatedly, engaging Canadians more deeply, and building an ever more detailed picture of what motivates our supporters allows us to target our communications, way more effectively. It is going to be an integral part of rebuilding the ground game of the Liberal Party by building up donor and volunteer lists at the National and EDA level.

So now I get to the point. NGP VAN has a social organising component that integrates Facebook friends and contacts with compatible Contact Databases! I figuratively drooled all over my keyboard as I watched the promotional video embedded below. If you are a Liberal Organiser, you need to ENSURE that your EDA has a nice Facebook page, because every like, every friend of every supporter can be quickly and seamlessly integrated into Liberalist utilising this tool. HOLY CRAP! The Liberal Party is going to freaking BURY the Conservatives in 2015! Imagine what will happen when 75% of Liberal voters are magically profiled and accessible to the local field organisers in the year leading up to a general election? The Conservatives have spent literally tens of $millions building a partial and spotty database on supporters and donors. The Liberal Party can acquire a much richer dataset in one tenth of the time. Don’t believe me? Watch the video below, and get to work with that Facebook page!

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It is time for the Liberal party to start ‘Doing’ policy.

Attack ads, counter attack ads. Lots of earned media so far, and with some actual media buys happening, I am sure there is going to be some movement in opinion polls, and very early voting intentions, but seriously, what does it mean 2 years out from the next general election? Lets take stock of what the practical results of the first two weeks of Trudeau’s leadership are. The most obvious practical outcome is the incredible success of the Supporter category of membership in the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party raised a nifty half a million dollars in the first 7 days after the leadership race ended. I suspect that by the end of this weekend, the total will be approaching a cool $million. Not too shabby for the third place Party, two years away from a general election! And how did the Party do it? Well two words encapsulate it: Trudeau & Supporter. Here is a copy of one of Trudeau’s ‘asks’ that tells us there were 7,000 donors last week.

First Look at our Ad

When Justin Trudeau was faced by an immediate barrage of attack ads, the Liberal Party was able to send out mass emails to an enormous number of recipients, largely because the supporter category had added somewhere around a quarter million names to Liberalist. I am sure that the social media networking drove more than a few donors into Trudeau’s arms, but the lions share had to be in the form of click-throughs from the emailed communications.  I am thinking that the skeptics about supporter category are taking a sober second look at the concept right about now, as I do not think that the Liberals have ever really seen anything like this. But here’s the thing. People are motivated right now. There is a lot of excitement still in the air over the recent Trudeau win, but those Conservative attack ads are going to start to have an impact. It will not be long until the existing lists start to suffer from donor fatigue. (Not to mention bumping up against contribution limits). Without something more concrete than excitement and enthusiasm for Justin, the edge will come off. The need to replenish Liberalist with fresh contacts, and the need to motivate and engage people who have not yet contributed will become an ever more pressing concern.

I will never stop believing that a great event is nowhere near as good as an effective PROCESS. I know it sounds ridiculous to say that the Leadership race, and this huge fundraising boom is not the best thing that could happen, but that is exactly what I believe to be true. To put this most excellent fundraising week into perspective, the Liberal Party blew the doors off, and raised $500,000. At an annualised rate, this would yield $26 million, assuming the same level of excitement and engagement were sustainable year round.  The Conservative Party raises between $17 million in 2009 and 2010, up to a high of $22 million in 2011 from about 100,000 donors. They do this dependably, reliably, and repeatedly because they have systematized their fundraising and outreach efforts. They tap into people motivated by specific policy prescriptions, or ideas, and that is why their donors dig deep into their pockets again and again.

So how do you go about building a reliable process to recruit, and engage new donors? Well the answer is to appeal to people based upon something more reliable than excitement and pizzazz. That something is, and always will be to appeal to deeply held beliefs, which means policy. In a sense, the Conservative attack ads are highlighting this fact for us. They are absolutely correct that without any policy substance, the Liberal party is not going to forge any kind of real relationship with the electorate. I think that Justin Trudeau is also correct, that policy that is delivered from on high is not the best way of forging that relationship, and engaging more Canadians. The Trudeau campaign has actually started a process of soliciting policy input from Canadians, utilising a tool called soapbox. The website is ok I guess. It definitely has been envisioned as both an idea factory, and a tool for harvesting resources, but there is something missing from it. To my jaundiced eye, there is a proliferation of disconnected ideas, and no real way to pull the threads together into common themes, and ultimately serious policy prescriptions. I am not an expert in website design, or social networks/forums, but to my mind, what is missing is a stronger guidance and structure, so that people can actually assemble online clustered about policy themes and statements. For example, The Liberal Party has several prominent advocates, and scholars of democratic reform in our ranks. I am thinking Stephane Dion, and latterly Joyce Murray. If they were invited to build an online community addressing electoral reform, then we could be assured that there would be some solid policy prescriptions being presented for debate, and a tool like soapbox can form the meeting place where Canadian proponents of electoral reform could engage ever more deeply with the issue that moves their hearts and minds. With a few thousand dollars of seed money, plus a plethora of social networking tools, I can pretty well guarantee they could build a community of many many thousands of Canadians around this issue. And naturally, there are many policy fields that could engage large and small groups of proponents, each with a few prominent Liberals providing the steady guiding hand. Periodically, they could be asked to contribute funds to an advertising campaign to promote their policy prescriptions to all Canadians, thus drawing in new participants, donors, volunteers, and members, whilst forever banishing the public perception that Trudeau, and the Liberal Party is bereft of ideas.

As I said earlier, I am not an expert in forums or social networking, but I guarantee that Liberals exist who ARE. I can also guarantee that without processes to draw in, and ever more deeply engage Canadians with the Liberal party, it is ony a matter of time before the Conservatives, and the NDP stomp the Liberal Party. Because the fact is that the Liberal Party IS at a policy crossroad. And both of out opponents are ideologically driven, with ideas and policy at the heart of  their party’s. My ideas along these lines may be fatally flawed, but it is definitely time to start the hard work of building the Party, and policy formulation has to be front and centre in this effort.

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Here`s a surprise. The Greens kickass at political outreach while Libs CPC and NDP all FAIL.

Come on In!

Come on In!

As regular readers may have gathered, I am very interested in effective political fundraising, data management, and communications strategy and tactics. I have had practical experience in it too, so I think my thoughts are worth the Liberal Party`s time to consider. One month ago, I blogged about methods to build the database, with some basic suggestions for the Liberal Party. The post was about how to use petitions to gather contact information from highly motivated citizens. You see, a petition is an extremely effective way to collect the names and verified email addresses from people who are self-identifying with a very specific issue. In the ‘New World of Electoral Politics’, the world where Big Data is both the objective, and the means to engage in political activism, success will depend upon the ability to:

  • Build the Database with contact names, where they live, and most importantly their validated email addresses.
  • Engage supporters on their terms, and enrich your data by identifying the issues that are of burning interest to the supporter.
  • Employ effective ‘calls to action’ that harvest tangible benefits from those engaged supporters.

With that in mind, I decided to conduct a little test of  just how effectively Canada’s Political Party’s utilise the data that falls into their hands through petitions, and I had a very surprising result. The test was as simple as could be. I signed a leadnow petiton to `Save the Parliamentary Budget Office`,  that directed emails to the leaders of the 4 Party’s in Parliament, plus my local MP (who is that lame Conservative who unseated Ignatieff here in Etobicoke Lakeshore). I have preserved and briefly analysed the responses I received. To date, there are 22,295 petitioners who have responded to this specific call to action. It sounds like a very simple test, and most readers will dismiss this as a trivial pursuit question, but it is NOT. The responses are hard evidence of a serious failure of the Political communications of the three main Party`s  Here are the results, ranked from worst to best.

The Conservative Party`s grade is F–: This result surprised me the most. For all of the Conservative Party`s vaunted expertise in Big Data, and the related communications tools, I did not even receive an acknowledgement of receipt of the email from either the PMO, the CPC, or most tellingly from my local MP. I mean, what the hell are they thinking? For all they know, I am a fat cat capitalist, rolling in potentially donatable funds, with a network of Conservative buddies who LOVE Harper, but are concerned about Parliamentary accountability. There was nothing from them highlighting whatever else they think they are doing to further accountability. My suspicions are that they did little more than forward my contact info to the RCMP and CSIS as a potential ` accountability terrorist `, lol. In short, the CPC and the local MP actually hurt themselves by failing to respond in any way whatsoever. They told me that they do not give a shit what I think.

The Liberal Party`s grade is an F: Unfortunately, this result did not surprise me. I received a polite response 2 full weeks after I signed the petition. ( Petition Response from Bob Rae  ) It was a plain text email that was actually specific to the issue at hand, BUT…. The email was NOT signed by Bob Rae, but by an assistant. The formatting was primitive, without a single call to action. I am not certain what was done with the data I provided, but I suspect  it is sitting in an outlook folder with 22,295 other contacts, NOT a kick ass database like Liberalist. The reason I suspect this? I have not received any communications from any Liberal Party entity at the test email address I provided. The Liberals did not actively hurt themselves, but they did themselves no favours.

The NDP`s grade is a D: Tom Mulcair responded personally (NOT- lol) on the same day I signed the petition. ( Petition Response from Tom Mulcair  ) It was a bilingual auto-responder, with French first, then English telling me that boy, does he get a lot of email, and that I should perhaps follow one of the two links to either follow Tom on Twitter, or visit the NDP website to find out what they stand for. The formatting was a very freakin ugly font, and aside from the quick response, it said nothing whatsoever about the topic at hand. Auto-responders can be impersonal and a turn-off, and this one went out of it`s way to be an impersonal turn-off.  The one small saving grace was that there was a call to action, those two links to Twitter, and the NDP site. By itself, this response gets an F, but one week later, I received a specific response from Tom Mulcairs office. ( Tom Mulcair follow up 1  ) This second response was pretty well identical in content to the Bob Rae response, with the exception that there was a clickable link to the Parliamentary website highlighting a private members bill on the Parliamentary Budget office. That link was not to any actual NDP site, so there was no attempt to harvest me for future appeals. It doesn`t really deserve a D, but I want to acknowledge that the first crappy response was timely and had some calls to action, and the topical response was late, badly formatted, but again had some kind of call to action, (even if it was useless). Based on what I have seen, I did not make it into an actual political database though, so that D grade is probably optimistic.

The Green Party`s Grade is a B+: Now this is how you work with Data! The initial response was personally signed, but it took 5 days to get to me. ( Petition Response from Elizabeth May  ) It was specific to the issue, and it included a call to action to visit a page with topical press releases on it, BUT the links were plain text URL`s, so the only way to take action would be to copy and paste the links into the recipients browser. Kind of dumb, and a fail until you see what happens next. 4 days later, I received a very well prepared and formatted email. ( Elizabeth May follow up 1  ) In order to finish reading that second email, I had to click on a link to Elizabeth Mays constituency website. Follow that link, and you will see that hundreds and hundreds of Canadians were engaged in a discussion of the topic at hand, through a Disqus comments board. Very slick! The Green Party has thought through the value stream of voter outreach, and are utilising a cheap and effective tool to elicit further response and engagement with their contacts and supporters. The email is replete with calls to action. For example, this link invites me to `protect democracy robogate.ca`, which is intended to collect information on an issue that I may feel strongly about. The landing page was not created for nothing, it`s purpose is to find out more about ME, and what turns my crank. If I clicked on anything whatsoever having followed the link, that information would have been appended to my contact in the Green Party`s contact database, and I guarantee I would be receiving a topical email with an ask for money, time, or skills before too much time went by. There were links to social media, including the means to forward emails. Really, you should take a look at the email, it is a pretty damned good template for a very effective political communications piece. Two weeks later, Lo and Behold! I received a second very well formatted email, with all the bells and whistles. ( Elizabeth May follow up 2  ) The calls to action were shaken up a little, with similar objectives in mind, but different methods of achieving the same results. Two more weeks go by and there it is, regular as clockwork, another very well presented email. ( We Only Have Days to Stop the Canada-China FIPA  ). Again similar, with one interesting difference. There is link inviting me to share the email with my friends, that directs me to this landing page at the Green Party website. That page is intended to harvest email addresses of my friends, whilst associating them with the specific topical call to action the original letter was about. So there it is, as a result of signing a third-party petition, I have now been fully incorporated into the Green party of Canada`s mailing list, and they are effectively using that list to build their mailing list, to engage supporters and citizens with the Green party, and to build up an ever more detailed picture of their supporters through well conceived calls to action. The reason I only gave them a B+ was because the initial response should have been stronger, and they failed to go above and beyond a business standard of good and effective communications. I am a tough marker, and I agree with my old University Profs that an A or A+ has to be earned by going beyond the course material, and introducing something new and pertinent to the subject at hand.

As far as the relevance of this trivial analysis to the broader picture goes, the Green Party was in deep trouble when the per vote subsidy started to dry up and disappear. Their reaction was exemplary, they adapted to their changing circumstances by focusing on what they already did pretty well in the fundraising sphere and beefed up their email campaigning. The results are publicly available at the elections Canada political funding database. Despite the loss of subsidy funds, they are actually improving their revenues, incrementally, quarter by quarter, and this is the mechanism by which they are doing it. Liberal Party take heed! Even from the humble starting point as of today, Liberalist should be easily generating $10,000,000 per annum in donations, and that should be on a permanent upward trajectory. This stuff is so freaking easy to do, all it takes is the recognition of it`s significance, and a concerted effort to make it happen. EVERY single tool exists within Liberalist and the Party, you just need to start treating emailed communications like the solid gold that they are. rather than an irksome task of responding to pesky petitioners and constituent inquiries.

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Justin Trudeau is just plain Wrong about Micro-Targeting being negative.

J TrudeauUh-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.

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Issues based Segmenting and Targeting the new activism

Slice it and Segment it for best results!

Slice it and Segment it for best results!

I just read an excellent article on how activists, and issue advocates in Canada are adopting new techniques and models to drive their message home to Government. It seems I am not alone in my assessment that a direct one-on-one interaction with individuals presents the opportunity to more effectively engage small segments of the electorate to more readily mobilise them for political action.

I have written a number of posts recently about my belief that the Liberal Party absolutely MUST get into the game of big data management if they are to have a hope of gaining ground in the new world of electoral politics, and this article points out the way. The Liberal Party has recently had some first hand experience of how an effectively managed issues based database can be leveraged for political ends. Joyce Murray engaged with ( or was engaged by?) Leadnow and FairVote Canada to mobilise a substantial campaign for electoral co-operation. Both of those organisations were built up as online communities, engaged with a specific, and highly motivating issue, electoral reform in Canada. AVAAZ is another organisation that has proven very effective in mobilising Canadians around specific issues. Please do have a look at their websites as that is the primary tool utilised to build these substantial and effective online communities:

Leadnow Site.

FairVote Canada.

AVAAZ.

As you can see from the main landing pages of these organisations websites, their primary focus is on drawings contact information from people interested in their issues, and securing some kind of ongoing interaction so as to build engagement within their organisation. You see, every time somebody clicks on a link, signs a petition, or donates a few bucks, they are quantifying their level of engagement with both the organisation, and the underlying issue being promoted. Because this is an ongoing, and interactive process, it is possible to create a continuous flow of people becoming more and more deeply engaged in the campaign, and the organisation.

One VERY telling example of a micro-targeted campaign is where Dogwood Initiative was opposed to the China-Canada Foreign Investment treaty, so what did they do? They downloaded the list of Conservative Party donors from Elections Canada’s political finances site, and polled them directly. What they found was that the Conservative Base was very strongly opposed to the provisions of the treaty. In their case, they forwarded the results of their poll to Stephen Harper, but there are even better things that the Liberal Party could, and should be doing with the Conservative Party’s donors list. Sometimes, (but not always) the best defense is a good offense. Rather than hanging around waiting for the Conservatives to unleash attack ads, the Liberal Party should be targeting the Conservatives directly, where they will feel it very quickly, and be forced to react. I would suggest that it is time for the Liberal Party to be directly contacting the Conservative base. There will be numerous chinks in the Conservatives armour, in the form of policies that are unpopular with many of their own most important supporters (donors and volunteers). Determining WHAT those chinks in the armour are, and then exploiting them can force the Conservatives to re-trench. ALL the broadcast advertising in the world cannot stop the Liberals from systematically initiating direct contact with the average CPC donor, so an approach like this will be very hard to counter. And counter it they MUST, as it directly challenges their enormous cash flows that they need to finance broadcast advertising. If it costs $100 k to turn off the taps on $1m per year in donations, that can be chalked up as a win for the Liberals.

Anyway, there is plenty to say about specific uses of segmented data, and specific campaigns, but I hope that Liberal readers of my blog will take home some important information from these examples. Liberalist exists and is being populated with hundreds of thousands of new contacts. The tools to draw in more people, engage them more deeply with the Liberal Party barely exist.  Finally, mobilising them for effective political action seems limited to fundraising asks. These things need to be the focus of Liberal activists everywhere if we are to match the political effectiveness of the non-aligned political activist community. With two years until the next General Election, there is more than enough time to build a truly effective electoral database, perhaps even enough to win the next General Election.

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Justin over Joyce, by a nose: But how they are BOTH winners.

The conventional wisdom has it that Justin Trudeau has the leadership of the Liberals all but in the bag. Well, all I can say is that the conventional wisdom is ill-informed, and I believe that the contest is a whole lot closer than it appears.

First off, Joyce Murray has a lot more supporters than was publicly suspected. According to her campaign, they actually managed to register 45,000 supporters through their third-party recruiting drive. Yes, I said register to vote, not sign up as supporters. As I posted some weeks ago, Joyce Murray was pretty smart when she targeted a massive, well organised, and highly motivated online community in her supporter drive. It did not require a massive labour intensive process to succeed, because the communications tool utilised, (electronic) is basically free, and the motivation of her erstwhile target group is STRONG. That ease of communications, and strong motivation has manifested itself again by the very high rate of conversion of Murray Supporters to registered voters. That does not surprise me in the least, as I blogged here. As a former Green, I know that the Democratic reform advocates are more deeply motivated than most Canadians, and since the means of recruiting them, via email made it very easy to register, it was inevitable that their numbers would be strong. So based upon the raw numbers, Joyce probably has more registered supporters than Trudeau, while Trudeau probably has a big edge in paid up members.

The Trudeau Campaign is in a very different place. Despite all the hoopla about 170,000 Supporters, the Trudeau campaign recruited a large number of them through their phone banks, NOT through email or online campaigns. The down-side of this is that there was a built-in bias AGAINST Trudeau rooted in the means of acquiring those supporters. They reached them, one at a time by telephone, so a great many of them had no email address on file. This meant that given the very short time frame to register to vote, only a fraction of the Trudeau supporters will have ended up being eligible to vote. Trudeau has got to be chewing his fingernails by now, if the conversion rate for supporters to registered voters was so very lame, are his registered supporters sufficiently motivated to actually cast their ballot after all? I have zero information to share on that score, except the general observation that Joyce’s supporters are going to turn out in very large numbers, and Trudeau’s supporter turnout will definitely be lower. On raw vote counts, it will be extremely close, but that does not mean that Trudeau will lose.

You see, there is something to be said for clunky, old-fashioned, slow and expensive phone banks. Every contact can be targeted. While Joyce was racking up big numbers of supporters, she could not control WHERE THEY CAME FROM. Boy, is she gonna ROCK BC! Actually, she is going to just sweep aside everybody else in BC, and there will be a titanic battle in Urban centres across Canada. But superior organisation, and the highly targeted phone campaign by the Trudeau team will still likely tip the balance. The reason is that despite the very low registration rates ‘enjoyed’ by team Trudeau, their conversions are going to yield a very efficient vote. By efficient, I mean that they are going to win maybe 100, maybe more ridings by just a handful of votes. So there it is, I predict that Joyce will be in a dead heat with Trudeau in terms of ballots cast, but unless Trudeau’s turnout is really really pitiful, he shall win it in rural Nova Scotia, and across the Province of Quebec. It is going to be close though, so nobody should loaf around figuring it is in the bag.

So what to do with Joyce once the dust settles? Well, she has proven something very specific and relevant to the Liberals fortunes. Look at this very interesting article on election results based upon polled intentions of the electorate under a preferential ballot system, ( Actually, that is official Liberal Policy for democratic reform). The outcomes are extremely favourable for every party except the Conservative Party. That makes intuitive sense because the Conservatives have pursued a deliberate policy of solidifying support from their issue sensitive base by contrasting it against, and vilifying those who disagree with them. Hmm, not very conducive for being liked by at least some of your opponents. So preferential ballots are good for the Liberal Party. Joyce has proven something else. Democratic reform is a very strong motivator. It is capable of drawing tens of thousands of supporters in from different party’s, and those supporters mean business. While Joyce pulled in maybe 50,000 names, the sheer size of the Leadnow, Fair Vote, etc memberships suggests that there are as many as a million motivated Canadians standing behind electoral reform. So here is some food for thought, Joyce should be offered the job of building up a strongly motivated community of Liberals, dedicated to bringing Preferential ballots, or a Royal Commission on electoral reform to Canadians, just as soon as the Liberals form the next Government. There is plenty of time to turn this issue into a Liberal issue before the next election. Put half a million democratic reform supporters into Liberalist, and there will be an amazing number of pony tailed-activists canvassing in YOUR riding for YOUR candidate in 2015. And the money, Oh La La! Joyce will have plenty of funds to carry the electoral reform message to the electorate. People who really care will respond well to asks for time and money to support their cause. And guess what? If it succeeds, the Liberal Party will have a permanent advantage with the introduction of preferential ballots, because there they are, with a brand that has very broad appeal indeed! And if it doesn’t succeed? Well, the democratic reform advocates have been patient and are used to not succeeding. They will dig in their heels, and organise an even stronger community for the next election.

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Uniting Progressives: A meaningless Mantra for the Liberals.

Every time I hear, or read about ‘uniting the left’, or ‘uniting progressives’ to get rid of the Conservatives, it makes me wince. And every time I read some journalist – pundit pontificating on the certainty of perpetual Conservative governments unless the LEFT unites, I get even more irritated. I mean, am I the only person in Canada who has noticed that the left – right spectrum has very little to do with electoral outcomes in a Canada? So here is the conventional wisdom. The Canadian Political spectrum is made up of the NDP on the left, the Liberal Party straddling the centre, and to the right we have the Conservative Party. In this one-dimensional world, individual electors fall in a nice neat continuum from left to right. The issues that actually motivate the electors are of course all nicely aligned left to right as well. The electorate, like nice little sheep know their place in this continuum, and take timid baby steps to the left, or to the right according to what way they are ‘leaning’ in the current electoral cycle. The pundits breathlessly analyse how the Liberal Party is leaning right this time, so the Conservatives are going to suffer as more of their end of the spectrum fall under the sway of the Liberals, or perhaps the Liberals are ‘campaigning from the left’ again, and stealing away all those socialists who fell under the sway. The natural conclusion is that the Liberals do not stand for anything, (because they swing both ways you see), while the principled Party’s of the left and right are ‘too extreme’ to govern in accordance with the majority of Canadians who dwell in the political ‘centre’.

What a crock! Socialists exist of course. Libertarians exist too, as do religious fundamentalists, and social conservatives. But how the heck do all these different ideas, beliefs, and ideals fit into that neat little left right continuum? The fact is that people are motivated by ISSUES, not by some imaginary political spectrum. There are things that Matter to them, and there is everything else, whether left, right, or not readily pigeonholed, which is mostly white noise. I have blogged about micro-targeting, segmenting the electorate, and the realities of modern electoral politics. The REAL world of electoral politics is made up of a whole lot of different issues, and ideals that constitute a much broader array of choices than left or right. These issues and ideals are held dear by people of different sexes and ages, not strictly by ‘seniors’, ‘women’, or other broad demographic groupings. This has always been the case, but it is only in very recent times (meaning the past decade) that the low costs and ease of communications, and computing power has made the old style targeting of broad demographics and right left spectrums essentially nostalgia of ageing pundits.

So what does this have to do with ‘uniting progressives’ or ‘the left’ to defeat the dreaded Conservatives? In essence, I would argue that there is no left to unite, and ‘Progressive`is a largely meaningless word. If the Green Party, the Liberal Party, and the NDP were to actually unite, they would be obliged to harmonise their policies before presenting them to the electorate. If their current voters were all nicely lined up on a left right spectrum, then it would be a simple matter of arithmetic, adding up all those votes for an instant and overwhelming majority. But Left – Right is NOT what motivates the majority of their current supporters. If there were indeed such a shakeup, then the Conservative Party would be very busy crafting policy messages for people who live on a whole another spectrum. The spectrum of `where do you stand on the issues that motivate ME?` The new party would be busily thrashing out their platform in a huge policy slugfest. As the new united left entity harmonised their policies, they would be shedding supporters who agreed with the predecessor party`s policy, but could not abide the new policy. Those electors would be up for grabs, and you can bet that the Conservatives would be looking hard for the issues that would draw them into the Conservative column on EDay. Maybe the united left would win, maybe not, but a slam dunk it would NOT be. And what would happen if the ‘left’ party’s simply collaborated to run a single candidate WITHOUT consolidating their policies first, (a la Joyce Murray)? Well, a lot of their past supporters would blow them a raspberry, and follow a coherent policy offering by the Conservatives.

So what it really comes down to for the Liberal Party is; How are the Conservatives, (and the NDP) to be defeated if merging three Party’s is not the answer? The answer is disarmingly simple. Stop treating the electorate like they were monolithic demographic blocks, and start treating them like they were individuals who happened to share their political motivations, and policy interests with other Canadians from many different backgrounds.  I get the feeling that the Liberal Party has conceded the `right`to the Conservatives, and to a lesser extent the `left`to the Dippers. Well that is just plain dumb! Do you really think that well-heeled capitalists do not care if they are breathing air contaminated by industrial pollutants? Perhaps you feel that religious and social conservatives never ever considered that a social safety net is a handy thing when you are down and out? And those trade unionists, are they are all dyed in the wool socialists who would never consider abandoning the NDP? Of course not, but just how the heck do you get to develop a dialogue with them, and draw them into the Liberal fold? Well the starting point is to develop the means to communicate with them ALL over the entire course of the electoral cycle. And that means collecting reams and reams of email addresses and data about individual Canadians. As I have blogged in a prior post, the Real world of electoral politics requires that the Liberals build and populate their electoral database, Liberalist, with information on every single Canadian voter. Since the means of communicating directly with them is determined by possession of a valid email address, the most fundamental task for Liberal organisers is to employ any device they can conceive of to amass accurate confirmed email addresses for as many electors as possible. The second task, ( and it should be pursued concurrently) is to solicit, and acquire data on what motivates each and every voter in Canada. That means using communications to solicit responses that actually tell you what people think is important. And I cannot stress enough that the so-called ‘strongholds’ on the left right spectrum are NOT locked into the Conservatives and NDP respectively.  Those demographics are made up of individuals. By reaching out to, and making contact with them as individuals, it is possible to delve deeper into the whole range of policy issues that motivate them. Now, building and weaving those motivations into a coherent policy package or election plank is a big task, but the basic facts are pretty clear. You have to start with the means and methods to communicate directly with the electorate.

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