Trudeau’s Liberals going for the Conservatives throat.

I am not a big fan of the accepted wisdom that politics happens on a left/right continuum. That creaking old paradigm does not mean much to most of the electorate. Perhaps I should be a bit more nuanced with that observation? While there are many Canadians who view themselves as ‘left’ or ‘right’ wing, there are far more Canadians who will give their electoral support based on the issue or issues that affect them personally, irrespective of ‘left’ or ‘right’ bias. According to the accepted wisdom, the Conservative Party is the party of the Right. Their base is therefore an ideologically motivated monolith, that can be counted on to vote CPC. On the ‘left’ flank of the Liberals sit the NDP. Again, the accepted wisdom is that the NDP’s  ideologically motivated ‘base’ can be relied on to vote NDP. In the ‘centre’ sit the Liberals, who alternate between left and right in a morally bankrupt dance to win power at any cost. Well I am sorry, but when your definition of what motivates people captures no more than a third of the electorate, it is time to dump it.

And dumping the paradigm seems to be what is on Trudeau’s mind nowadays. In the early days of the Liberal leadership race last year, Justin Trudeau came out publicly in support of the NEXEN takeover in the Oil patch. Shortly thereafter, Trudeau announced, (on a visit to Alberta no less) that he supported the Keystone Pipeline, but not the Northern Gateway pipeline through the Rockies. The shock value of a Liberal leadership contender reaching out to Albertans and a key CPC constituency was good for a lot of headlines, but it was also revealing inasmuch as it is the first attempt to directly target a true blue Tory constituency since the Reformers co-opted the PC’s. Since then we have seen Trudeau reaching out to libertarians by supporting Marijuana legalisation. While many would assume that legalising marijuana is anathema to all Conservatives, the fact is that there are plenty of Conservatives who will support the policy, irrespective of party lines. If you still doubt that Trudeau is aiming squarely at the Conservatives, he publicly threw down the gauntlet in his speech to the Liberal policy convention yesterday. “Conservative voters are your neighbours, not your enemies, ‘these are good people,’ Trudeau tells convention

In my opinion, this is strategically sound. Past elections have featured the Conservative Party shaping the issues, and defining the Liberals and Dippers in the public eye. The Conservatives have spent untold dollars and volunteer hours building their constituencies one issue at a time. By the time the election rolls around, the Conservatives have had another large slice of the electorate in their back pocket, leaving the Liberals desperately trying to win their supporters back. And whilst the Liberals are scrambling to stand still, the CPC unleash the hounds and pick and choose who, how, and when to attack. Whatever happens over the coming year, the Conservatives are going to have to watch their back. They will surely try to expand their appeal, and further build their constituencies, but they are going to have to balance TWO priorities. Every time they go to a podium, they are going to have to think hard about whether they are trying to win over new supporters, or circle the wagons around one of their existing ‘base’ constituencies.

If Trudeau has made the best strategic decision by targeting the CPC support issue by issue, the tactics leave something to be desired. When the CPC goes after a constituency, they go after it retail. They reach out to community groups, they leverage their paid AND earned media, and they never stop identifying individuals who are committed to supporting them on a specific issue. This is so important because it enables them to target their supporters and communicate with them directly, one on one to lock down their support as soon as the writ is dropped. Voters are invited to sign petitions, to donate, to join CPC friendly community groups, and make themselves known to the CPC by name, address, phone number, and most importantly, by email address. The benefits of this are obvious. They can counter any message that is delivered by broadcast media by narrowcasting their response directly to the constituency ‘in play’. They can do this immediately without spending any money just by clicking ‘send’ on an email blast. What is so disappointing about the Liberals failure to harvest direct contacts amongst the electorate is that it is ridiculously easy to do so. All that is needed is to ASK Canadians to sign a petition, or register as a supporter every time you present an idea publicly. When General Leslie calls for fixing military procurement, all he needs to do is invite Canadians to sign on to support his proposal, and another pile of issue specific supporters are loaded into Liberalist. Whether it is Scott Brison talking about the Conservative Deficit, or  Marc Garneau, communications are ALWAYS an opportunity to solicit actionable contact data from the electorate. Even if it is only a few hundred prospective supporters at a time, there is no reason whatsoever not to be adding hundreds of thousands of new supporters to the database every year.

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Rob Ford is in a good position to win the Mayoralty in October.

Harper-FordIf I were a betting man, I would lay pretty stiff odds in favour of Rob Ford beating his challengers in the 2014 Toronto Mayoral election. The Toronto Sun commissioned a poll by Forum, and today they released selected highlights. Like that Rob Fords approval rating has climbed from 42% on Dec.9, to 47% this week. On the important voting intentions question, Ford would win the vote of 41% or this weeks respondents, up from 33% on Dec.9.

There has been a lot of valid criticism recently of polling methodology, and the spectacular failure of recent polls to predict election outcomes. I agree that the very nature of opinion polling, and the differences between a poll or survey and the real thing, an election, make it nearly impossible to accurately forecast the effects of voter turnouts on election outcomes. His polled supporter numbers are almost enough by themselves, but  the strongest reasons I believe Ford is in a good position are precisely those things that a poll cannot readily measure.

In 2010 the Fords ran a very sophisticated ID-GOTV program right across the City of Toronto. With thousands of hard-working volunteers, they were able to canvas for support, and identify an unprecedented proportion of the electorates voting intentions. On election day, they did not drop the ball. They put their thousands of volunteers to work, and got their voters to the polls in droves. Altogether, the turnout in the 2010 election was up around 53%, as compared to 39% in the prior election. Without getting into all the gory details of the various councillor contests that were influenced by, or were an influence on the Mayoral contest, the Ford team essentially identified about 100,000 people who would not ordinarily vote in a municipal election, and got them to the polls to cast their Mayoral and Council ballots. (For those interested in those gritty details, here is a link to a turnout map by Ward.)

So there it is, my argument in a nutshell. Rob Ford won the 2010 election by motivating a large number of people who do not ordinarily vote in Municipal elections. The Ford campaign managed to identify their voters, and ran an effective GOTV to get them all to the polls on EDay. The Fords have been improving their database, and collecting ever more names and information on their supporters over the intervening 4 years. You know how Rob Ford is laughed at for handing out Fridge magnets on any and all occasions with his phone number? Well every time someone calls that number, they are identified as prospective Ford supporters, and their name goes into the ever-growing election database. I dwell on this point because public opinion polls are telling us that the bulk of these supporters have not wavered in their support for Ford despite some of the most outrageous scandals and controversies I have ever seen in Canadian politics. So that growing database is largely populated by people who are going to vote for Rob Ford if they vote for anyone. In 2010 nobody in Toronto had even remotely close to the amount of solid actionable data that the Fords had. Here we are 4 years later, and that database has been fed by robo-calling, fridge magnets, and all those telephoned and emailed expressions of support each successive scandal has unleashed. When somebody calls Rob Ford instead of the Cities service Toronto number, their personal contact data becomes Ford property. At this point in time, the Fords will have identified most of their supporters, so the re-election campaign can focus all of their resources on retaining their support, converting undecided voters, and suppressing the vote of their opponents.

Just because Rob Ford is in a very strong position, that does not mean he is certain to win. Olivia Chow has managed to establish her position as the most likely candidate to beat Rob Ford come the October vote. She will have the advantage of access to some decent data courtesy of the NDP, and many left leaning and centrist councillors. Her team will need to mine those databases heavily, and build up a new category of voter, Olivia Chow mayoralty supporters. Provided she can win over enough volunteers to avoid having to pay phone banks to ID her vote, then she will have a fighting chance to identify, and get her voters out in sufficient numbers. There is pretty obviously a good opportunity to suppress Rob Fords vote, again provided she has enough volunteers to identify all those Rob Ford supporters, and to reach them with a negative message about their chosen candidate. Lord knows there is plenty of ammunition. There ought to be one or two simple messages that will persuade much of Ford Nation to stay at home on EDay. The problem for the challenger is that (s)he will have to expend considerable resources building up his/her data. So on the one hand, any challenger has to both build their own database of supporters more or less from scratch, and run a parallel Ford vote suppression campaign with limited resources. All Ford has to do is hold onto the supporters that he has already identified, and he will have oodles of cash and volunteer hours dedicated to this one simple task.

So in conclusion, Rob Ford is likely to win the Mayoral election in October 2014. The reason is that most of his work is already done, and his supporters are a rock solid plurality of voters. If he does not win, it will be because an unprecedented number of volunteers step up to the plate for a single opponent, and enable her to run her phone banks full tilt on volunteer hours. Ideas will not matter much. It will boil down to a referendum on Rob Fords mayoralty, and the mechanical process of contacting millions of voters by phone or at their doorstep. That sucks. Politics really should be the realm of policy, and ideas, but welcome to the real world of Canadian electoral politics…

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Time for the Liberals to revive the Supporter membership category.

Liberal Supporter GraphicA little over a year ago, the Liberal Party was in the midst of a bold initiative intended to bring a lot of Canadians into the Liberal Party fold. The Supporter category of membership in the Liberal Party was conceived as an easy way to sign up a really large number of new ‘members’ by eliminating a membership fee, and conferring the right to cast a vote in the Leadership contest. The Leadership contest provided a lot of publicity for both the category, and for the Liberal Party, as well as for the actual Leadership contenders themselves.  The creation of this category implicitly acknowledged that possessing the means to communicate freely with large numbers of people who held an affinity for the Liberal Party was more important than collecting a $10 membership fee from a much smaller group of members. This acknowledgement is important, because it really strikes to the heart of the disparity between the Conservative Party, and the Liberals and Dippers in the fundraising arena. The Conservatives raise more money per donor, from a considerably larger number of donors than the other two party’s combined. So if the Liberals tried something quite innovative, and a genuine departure from past practice, so the obvious question SHOULD be: ‘So how did that work out for you?’

Over the course of the Liberal Party leadership campaign, there were a total of about 294,000 supporters signed up, a large proportion of which provided email addresses. Of those 294,000 additional new contacts, 127,000 went through the registration process and were eligible to vote. Over 100,000 of those registered to vote actually voted, so I would say that the whole exercise was a great success. I think that an influx of several hundred thousands of new names and email addresses is no mean feat, and there are continuing benefits. In the months since Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberals, the Liberal Party has had access to all those new contacts, and the results have been pretty impressive. If you head over to The Pundits Guide financial contributions database, you can see from the quarterly results that not only are the Liberals raising significantly more money than last year, but they are doing it by winning over a lot more donors. In other words, new donors with first time, or smaller ongoing donations are stepping forward by the thousand. In the first quarter of 2013 there were 24,068 donors contributing M$1.70, while in 2012 there were 22,867 donors contributing M$2.33.  Q2 2013 saw M$2.96 from 38,014 donors, vs 2012 M$1.81 from 22,611 donors. Q3 2013 saw M$2,17 from 30,108 donors vs 2012 M$1.44 from 20,259 donors. The first quarter was anomalous, because of the ongoing Leadership race, but the growth in number of donors accelerated from 5% (1201 donors) in Q1, to 68% (15,403 donors) in Q2, and kept well ahead of year ago results in Q3 with an increase of  49%(9849 donors). We will have to wait until year end results are publicly posted in 2014 to see what the annual numbers are, but the quarterly numbers are painting a compelling picture of supporters opening their wallets to the Liberal Party.

So why is it that when I mention the supporter category to most Liberals, they refer to it in the past tense? It is as if they can only envision it as part of a leadership contest. Signing up lots of supporters in one short period was and is a godsend to the Liberal party bank account. Guaranteed it will produce a bumper crop of election volunteers come 2015. I should think that brighter minds than mine would be burning the midnight oil working out the details of an ongoing supporter drive. There really is nothing more fundamental to a political party’s success than the ability to communicate via email to large numbers of their supporters, so how about it?

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The relentless collapse of the Green Party of Canada’s grassroots.

Back in May I laid out the evidence to support my contention that the Green Party of Canada is suffering a sustained collapse at the grass-roots level. To summarise my arguments, the local Electoral District associations were largely formed to capitalise on the Revenue Sharing agreements between the Green Party`s head office, and the local electoral units. Any local riding that met the basic criteria of maintaining a local organisation would receive a significant share of the per vote subsidy then on offer under the elections finance act. The central party had a perverse incentive inasmuch as their own revenues would decline every time a new local organisation was formed to take advantage of this revenue sharing deal, so perhaps it ought not surprise us that zero resources were allocated to local organising of grass-roots Green Party riding associations. On the part of the Electoral District Associations, virtually all local ridings that had more than 3 or 4 active members had already formed their EDA before Elizabeth May was elected leader of the GPC. Most of them coasted along under the Revenue sharing agreement, accumulating a small stream of cash for the next general election.

Now that the per vote subsidy is being phased out, the logic that drove the process of EDA formation has disappeared. There will no longer be any free lunches in terms of a guaranteed revenue stream, so the rewards for putting in the minimal effort to maintain an existing association in good standing are non-existent. As a consequence, my expectation that the majority of the Electoral District Associations would collapse is being borne out by the fact that an even 100 Electoral District associations have been de-registered by Elections Canada since 2010. This was not an inevitable outcome. While the EDA`s no longer have an overwhelming incentive to organise locally, the central party will no longer be losing revenues to local organisations horning in on the subsidy cash after the next election. It is very much in Elizabeth May`s interest to start organising locally, and re-building the electoral capacity of the GPC. I will go out on a (short) limb here and guess that the current leadership does not know how to organise nationally, and will not re-evaluate their resource allocation at this late date.

Here is a wee table charting the decline of the GPC grassroots:

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 2 19
Total: 287 136

I am not writing these posts documenting the decline and fall of the Green Party out of malice, or partisan glee. My intent is to demonstrate an electoral opportunity to the Liberal Party, and anticipate the strategy and tactics that the Liberal Party ought to adopt to capitalise on what is happening across Canada. In past elections, the Green Party sought to maximise revenues by ensuring a candidate was registered in all 308 ridings in Canada. With the loss of so many local EDA`s, and with the loss of the per vote subsidy, that will never happen again. In past elections, approximately 10% of the electorate were prepared to pledge their vote to the GPC. The GPC did not do any meaningful getting out the vote activities, so unsurprisingly, only about 60% of their voters actually showed up at the polls, and the GPC garnered about 6% of the national vote. In the 2015 general election, there will be a lot of ridings across Canada where the Green Party will either have no candidate, or will have zero resources to campaign. Provided the Liberal Party is prepared with a few well conceived policy prescriptions to appeal to Green Party supporters, then they could easily garner half or more of the Green Party vote in most of the ridings across Canada. Since that will represent the margin of victory in many local contests, it should be one of the keys to a majority Liberal government in 2015.

I do not get into policy questions very often, or very deeply. However, it may be useful to suggest a couple of areas in which the Green Party could be vulnerable. The most significant policy area for many GPC supporters is in the area of democratic reform. I think that most Liberals would recognise that Joyce Murray illustrated the potential of voting reform during the Liberal Leadership contest. A credible policy to introduce PR, or Preferential ballots will definitely set the stage to win the votes of a large proportion of Green Party voters. A second policy area that is less significant, but still meaningful is the legalisation (or decriminalization) of Marijuana. A policy offering covering both these bases will make a dramatic difference to Liberal fortunes in British Columbia, and will have a significant effect across the country. These are by no means the only issues which can turn Greens towards the Liberals, but combining both areas, and working them hard will go a long way towards replacing the GPC as the Party of choice for GPC voters left without a candidate in their riding.

Anyway, for reasons outlined above, the ongoing collapse of the GPC grassroots is probably going to accelerate dramatically next year, and 2015 will be the Götterdämmerung, with the residual organisations slipping away. I expect that there will be about 50 EDA`s that survive on the strength of local organising efforts, and the GPC will remain a national party in name only. The ways and means of capturing their electorate will undoubtedly need more refining, but I hope that the Liberal Party, and the Liberal EDA`s are not asleep at the switch, and will be giving due consideration to this one piece of the majority winning electoral puzzle.

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Liberal Party open contested nominations: Awesome plan, but Pro-Life is the fly in the ointment.

At great risk to life and limb, I am going to open a can of worms that the Liberal Party is just going to HAVE to deal with soon. Over the course of the leadership contest, the bold experiment of opening up the vote for all Canadians through the supporter category of Liberal membership has quite impressive and positive results. In fact it was so succesful, that for a short while, the Liberal Party is going to match the Conservative Party fundraising prowess, by tapping into this new pool of friends for monetary contributions. Justin Trudeau re-inforced the Liberals movement in a more open direction in his acceptance speech. Trudeau categorically stated that ALL nomination contests would be precisely that, an openly contested election of the Liberal Party’s candidate for each riding.

For very practical reasons, and a few philosophical ones, I applauded that iron-clad commitment. Philosophy aside, the biggest practical reason is that the Liberal Party has a long way to go before Liberalist has enough committed and motivated supporters to build the monetary and organisational strength of the Conservative Party. Over the coming 2 years, there will be 338 candidates selected, one for each federal riding across Canada. Whether those candidates are selected by closed membership votes, or Primary style supporter votes as I hope, there are going to be a LOT of new members and/or supporters keyed up and ready to GO in the next General Election. It is not unreasonable to expect anywhere from a few hundred new supporters in smaller weaker ridings up to thousands of supporters in perhaps 100 Liberal hotbeds. When added to the hundreds of supporters already identified, many EDA’s will have literally thousands of formally ‘registered’ supporters to call upon for their votes, for their volunteer hours and skills, and yes, for their money. With this kind of boost to the numbers, I would anticipate great gobs of cash, badly needed to fight the next election. This is the positive aspect of contested nominations, and it is hard to refute its significance.

In another vein, I have watched the leadership of the Conservative Party, and I have always been vitally interested in just which constituencies their prowess, and electoral strength actually comes from. From the early days of the Reform Party, the Alliance iteration, and the final destruction of the vestiges of Progressive Conservatism with the birth of the CPC,  the Pro-Life movement has been front and centre. According to this Angus Reid Poll, “…one-in-twenty respondents (5%) would actually forbid women from having an abortion.” I do not think it will take much convincing for you to agree with me that this 5% is probably one of the best organised issues based group in the country. I mean, seriously, for most of the pro-life movement, they are literally on a mission from GOD. 20 years ago, this was an issue that divided Canadians right across Party lines, and geographical areas. It was treated pretty gingerly by politicians, and was characterised by open votes in Parliament for that very reason. If you CANNOT whip the vote, you better not even try to. Over the ensuing decades, the Reform Party (think Stockwell Day) and the successor party’s managed to turn this issue into what looked like a partisan issue. There is little doubt that Pro-Life movement has come to be associated with the Conservative Party, and that association has been integral to the fundraising, volunteer, and resulting organisational strength of the CPC. You see, it may only motivate 5% of the populace, but that motivation is strong. Strong enough to get thousands of volunteers out of bed early every day during an election, and hit the streets canvassing kits in hand. The long association of the Reformers and Alliance Party with the Pro-Life movement carried those supporters, and the Party they adhered to through to the grail itself. Majority Government!

Now that is where the wheels are starting to come off the bus for the Conservatives. It is not news that abortion is truly a third rail for the Harper Conservatives. Yes, their Party cannot survive in its current form without the organisational muscle the pro-life movement brings to their ranks, but at the same time this is a divisive issue, where passions run high on both sides. The fact is that it is not possible to win a majority from the electorate while openly seeking to re-regulate abortions in Canada. I would go a step further, and say that even a back-door attempt to pass a major pro-life bill would paralyse the Canadian government by mobilising literally millions of pro-choice men and women across the country to take to the streets. So it is perhaps not surprising that Stephen Harper has categorically rejected any and all attempts to introduce legislation, but he is definitely walking a tightrope, with the fiery pits of political oblivion boiling below. The danger for the CPC is pretty clear. The pro-Life movement might well feel an affinity for the Conservative Party after long association, but their primary motivation, their driving force is predominantly the drive to criminalize abortion. By taking away any hope that a majority meant their victory, their motivation has been removed, and THAT makes for a pretty shaky loyalty to the Conservative brand.

Back to the discussion about open contested nominations, and the potential of the supporter category of Liberal membership. I doubt I need to say it by now, but I think that any Liberal with half a brain knows what is likely to happen when the nominations are thrown wide open. If the nomination contests are open to paid Liberal members only, then a significant number of pro-life activists are going to be joining the Liberal Party, and they will bring little in the way of loyalty to the Liberals with them. If the nomination contests are open for the supporter category to vote, I think that Joyce Murray’s Leadership campaign has amply demonstrated that it is easy for people with zero interest in the Liberal brand to sign up on the spot, and they will do so to support pro-life nomination candidates. I would be willing to bet that Rob Anders for example, or his ideological clones will step forward. They will sweep the nominations in a number of ridings, and be standing for Parliament as Liberal Candidates all over the place. It will mean the death of the Conservative Party, but I suggest that it would be the death of Liberal Party hopes for a majority, or even a coalition government anytime soon. The only un-ambiguously pro-choice Party in Canada is the NDP, and I suggest that if the Liberals field a strong and vocal pro-life caucus of candidates, Canada through a plurality of pro-choice electors would engage in an interesting experiment with the first majority NDP government at the Federal level.

So there it is, and a major conundrum it is. The pro-lifers are motivated to bail from the Conservative Party, provided a credible path to criminalize abortion exists elsewhere. The Liberal Party has an awesome opportunity to engage many hundreds of thousands of Canadians in open primary style nomination contests, but it is probable that this will draw in a fifth column of highly motivated social conservatives. Thats the problem with democratic processes isn’t it? Even the folks we do not like get to have their say. What to do, oh what to do? All I can suggest at this time, is do not simply turn away from the idea of open primary style nominations. That is one potential key for a majority Liberal Government in 2015. Lets try to figure out how to have our cake, and eat it too, ok?

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An Opinion poll actually worth noting: Conservative Attack ads emphatically are NOT working.

Opinion polls can be extremely significant when they are used properly. When you are quantifying what things are of interest to specific people, you can garner useful actionable data, useful for political purposes that is. But the opinion polls that new organisations typically commission are next to useless. I mean, how can anybody gain anything useful from the hypothetical question beginning with: ‘If an election were held tomorrow’, when there is no question that an election will NOT be held tomorrow? Certainly you do not see Political Party’s blowing their hard-won dollars on such questions. Politicians want to know Which people can be swayed by Which message, and the polls they commission sure as heck do not make it into the daily papers.

All that said, I have been waiting for the next published poll for a week or so, because there is a question I wanted answered to my satisfaction. Are the Conservative advertisements attacking Justin Trudeau having the desired impact? Well much to my delight, that specific question has been answered today by one of the best pollsters out there. Ipsos Reid was commissioned by Postmedia and CTV to survey 1059 Canadians in an online survey on precisely that question. Incidentally, Canada.com has recently started doing something very clever. Instead of just printing poll results, they are creating interactive graphs and displays of digital data. It is clever, because by investing on better quality data, and then presenting it in a much more useable format, they are rendering standard presentation of such news obsolete. Who will bother going to read a National Post, or Toronto Star article on a poll, when they can see decent data, sortable on demographic, or geographic basis online? Go and have a look, click the ‘by region’  and ‘by gender and age’ tabs, and ask yourself  if you will be looking at future polls that are clickable and sortable like this.

To make a long story short, the survey invited Canadians to review the ads first, then questioned the respondents as to what impact the attack ads had on their voting intentions. The headline result is that for those Canadians who had previously seen the attack ads, (39%) there was a significantly higher probability that they would support the LIBERAL Party! I guess that means that Justin Trudeau’s ‘Mr. Positive’ campaign is working very well. It is not just vaccinating Trudeau against negative ads. The ads are turning viewers into Trudeau supporters! This is a pretty significant outcome. We have all been bombarded with wise punditry claiming the only effective response to an attack is to hit back, hard and low. Well, I think that the jury, the voting public has returned the verdict, and that verdict is that positive can work too. What does this mean for the future? Hell, I don’t know. We are in un-charted territory. All I can say is hat’s off to Trudeau, and his team. Just keep on turning that positive image into new supporters, and donors, and Hope and Hard work might just win the day!

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Trudeau’s ‘Call to Action’ needs to focus on building the Riding Associations.

In the very few weeks since Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, there have been some pretty big things going on. I guess the most obvious, and I mean IN YOUR FACE obvious is the launch millions of dollars worth of ‘attack ads’ by the Conservatives, and the launch of a million dollar ‘anti-attack’ ad by the Trudeau Liberals. We have all been treated to a phenomena that we have seen time and again. scads of

It's Off To Work We Go

It’s Off To Work We Go

instant communications ‘experts’ opine on whether one ad or another is ‘working’, and arguing the finer points of negative vs positive. Are the Cons shooting themselves in the foot? Is Trudeau a ‘Mr. Positive’, safely inoculated against negative ads? The yardstick against which the relative merits are judged are voting intentions as revealed by public opinion polls, which in turn unleash lashings of commentary on the accuracy, and relative merits of polling methods and companies. While all of this is, to be sure, very exciting and certainly gives us all fodder for blogs and comments, I cannot recall seeing a single news article on the yardsticks and measures of success that actually matter.

The objective of the Liberal Party of Canada is to win a plurality of voters in a general election expected sometime in the fall of 2015. I think that it is universally acknowledged that the biggest obstacle to overcome is that the Liberal Party does not currently have the ground organisation, or the resources to achieve that objective. Visit the Liberal Party website, and you shall be greeted by a banner stating simply: “HOPE and HARD WORK”. That is a pretty tacit recognition that there is some way to go, else why the word HOPE? I will take a leap of faith, and assume that since Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal Party recognise they need to rebuild the Party, that they have a Plan to achieve that objective. It is not rocket science, and Trudeau’s team have proven that they know how to plan. It is about setting an objective, acquiring the resources to achieve that objective, and then effectively deploying those resources to achieve the objective.

I do not think there is much doubt that the resource which matter most. The resource from which all good things flow is a base of committed supporters. Money, skills, volunteer hours etc. It follows that building up this asset is the interim objective, and this is the yardstick against which success should be measured. I guess that the rising fortunes of the Liberal Party in opinion polls measuring voting intentions is not a bad thing. What I am having trouble with is in answering the question, ‘How does spending a million dollars on an Ad campaign help to build the supporter base of the Liberal Party?’

I have spent enough time marketing goods and services that I understand the importance of a brand. Basically, all those Mr. Positive adverts are a brand building exercise. But Holy Crap! A million dollars on building the brand? The fundamental issue I have with that is that building the brand does not leave any room for a ‘call to action’ in the ad campaign. It is all sizzle and no steak. You can argue that Trudeau has leveraged the brand building campaign, by twinning it with a call to action to support the exercise with donations. That is certainly a valid point. Over a two-week period, I saw many a call to action in facebook ads, and various keyword based ads online to donate funds to the Liberals for the Mr. Positive ads. The effectiveness of that parallel campaign is proven by the obvious metric. The Liberal Party raised about $1million over a two-week period.  It is less obvious how effectively the Liberal Party has built the supporter base on which future success depends. For all those monetary resources expended, there has been very little in the way of calls to action to join, or Support the Liberal Party. I believe that the Liberals are playing their hand in a very disciplined and systematic way. I am thinking that the primary objective is going to come to the forefront over the coming months, and we shall see communications focused on calls to action that capitalise on the brand building campaign currently underway.

Trudeau is a wizard at gaining earned media. Earned media is at the discretion of journalists, editors, and the media in general. As such, it is very difficult to ensure an effective ‘call to action’ is included in published articles. Consequently, the focus of the earned media campaign is likely to be the continuous building the ‘Mr. Positive’ brand. We can hope, especially in online media channels, that the occasional ‘home run’ will be earned with links directly to Liberal, or Trudeau ‘landing pages’ intended to harvest supporter, donor, and volunteer names and email addresses. Those instances will be few and far between though. So earned media will probably focus on creating a positive environment for the ‘Hard work and Hope’ to take place in. Where the true objective will be achieved is on the paid media, and field organising fronts.

On the paid media side of things, the focus needs to be far more directly related to garnering the key resource, to whit recruiting supporters, voters, and building the volunteer base to make our EDA’s competitive. The reason is simple. Paid media is 100% at the discretion of the buyer. Connecting the message to the call to action is normally the entire purpose of a paid ad. This is the reason that I am bothered by the current $1million ad campaign. Delivering calls to action is EXPENSIVE, and every dollar spent on Mr. Positive ads, is one less dollar asking someone to join the Party, attend an EDA building event, sign a petition, or any of a myriad of useful and effective calls to action. Since future revenue streams are dependant upon a growing and ever more dedicated supporter base, the focus of the paid media campaign must shift to effective calls to action. That will directly grow the capacity of both the central Party campaign apparatus, and the local EDA supporter base.

On the field organising front, Justin Trudeau is a one man organising machine! I follow the news regularly, so every time I read a comment about Justin Trudeau missing in action in the House of Commons, a muted ‘Bwah ha ah’ rises from deep within. You see, rather than hanging out in the HOC standing in a futile exercise of voting against Government motions that will pass, Justin is out in the field stuffing the coffers and recruiting scads of supporters one EDA at a time. The Parliamentary reporters can fret away the days until Justin returns, which guarantees that his infrequent appearances on the Hill will be well attended. The result being solid national media coverage on themes more or less of his choosing (see ‘earned media wizard’ comment above).  In the past week, Justin spent time in Labrador addressing and motivating supporters in the by-election contest currently underway. He showed up in Edmonton, meeting with Edmonton area EDA’s, and drawing hundreds of new supporters into the local Edmonton organisations. Then he moved on to Winnipeg, where he glad handed his way through the food court of a local mall, once again addressing crowds and drawing more people into the Liberal Party’s arms. The guy makes the Energiser Bunny look like a freakin dilettante! I am starting to believe that Trudeau can practically rebuild the Party all by his lonesome, but I am thinking that the Liberals have to do better than that. This is where you and I come into the picture. ‘HOPE and HARD WORK’ means exactly that. When Justin moves on to the next EDA, what he is leaving behind has to be organised, and welded into a campaign capable group that can win the next election. Liberalist is being steadily populated with new supporters across the nation. It is pretty important that there is a local connection for all those new supporters. Engaging with them and soliciting their time, money, and effort needs to be happening in every EDA, or the opportunity Trudeau has presented the Liberals will be lost. There is probably a two-year time frame in which we have to act. If we are to overcome the CPC, and growing NDP organisations, then Justin is absolutely bang on the money. From a basis of HOPE, it is up to you and I to put in the HARD WORK, and put the puck in the net in 338 ridings in 2015!

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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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