Monday, December 27, 2010

Us Vs Them

My friends in other parties will mock the frame, but from the Liberal perspective I think the early "two choices" distinction is spot on. While clearly in dispute, I'm inclined to believe the 2011 election campaign has already begun. Seems a certain inertia is now in play, barring a major concession, a Bloc appeasement, I think we are already in the important pre-writ campaign.

In recent elections, the Liberals have gone to the narrow "us vs them" distinction, to try and siphon off soft support from other parties. The trouble with this strategy, it usually manifested itself in the dying days of a campaign, denoting some desperation. In the lead up to this election, we are seeing a different tract, a central theme, that may yield more practical benefit, just by sheer repetition and voluntary focus.

If you've listened to Ignatieff's end of year interviews, you'll see that the "two choices" frame is effective in several ways. The coalition question is sure to be part of the conversation, Ignatieff uses the two party choice as an excellent counter, a great segue into why voters need to make a clear choice. The response turns the coalition question around into an argument why you need to vote Liberal. Detractors will say it's typical Liberal behaviour, but I see this early, deliberate frame as an important departure. Factor in a government that is clearly in the "majority or bust" frame, and you can see how their posture will actually feed the Liberal narrative.

Again, I believe we are already in the phony war phase of an election campaign. If we enter a campaign with weeks of pre-sell on the clear choice front, it could well benefit the Liberals. The distinctions between the two parties are now there, sell able divergence on direction, so if we can frame it as a this or that, A or B, a real focused choice, then you very well could grab some soft support from elsewhere. That soft support exists, so the idea of targeting it straight away, prior to the unpredictable storyline of a campaign, is sound and very wise strategy IMHO.

30 comments:

A reader said...

Question: What do you do for a closer, then, if that approach fails at the beginning of the campaign?

Steve V said...

You take it home, don't know you'd deem a "failure" until votes are cast.

The Jurist said...

If we enter a campaign with weeks of pre-sell on the clear choice front, it could well benefit the Liberals.

Alternatively, if we entered a campaign with weeks of pre-sell on the "take down Harper by all means necessary including cooperation" option, that cause would benefit instead. And the fact that the Libs' excuse for narrowing the choices doesn't match the outcome they're arguing for figures to do nothing but damage to their credibility.

Steve V said...

Honestly, that seems a pretty silly retort. Yes, as a political entity, let's actively tell voters to pick any party beside Harper, because we will all join hands later and turf him. Is that what they did in Britain pre-writ? Is that what any party, in any country, anywhere has done? No, because you try to strengthen your hand, not boost your opponents. You think your boy is going to focus entirely on the Conservatives and NOT tell us all how the two main parties have failed, we need another option. The capacity for the selectivity you guys continually employ is ASTOUNDING.

Steve V said...

Anyways, what the diehard NDP supporter thinks is entirely irrelevant. This strategy isn't about appealing to the true believers, it's about putting an early frame in voters heads who can flip on a dime, the large undecided and marginal supporter.

Take the Green voter for example, little real historical preference, a sub segment entirely of the protest variety. The Liberals are foolish to not try and appeal to those folks. In some respects, the policy will involve a compromise, but when you frame it as a "would you rather have..." type question, you may see some sober thought. You think this Liberal Party entirely represents my views? LOL.

The Jurist said...

The argument isn't "pick any party besides Harper", it's "Harper is bad and must go", full stop - rather than "Harper is bad, but not as bad as parties we claim to agree with...and he must go, but only if we're the only ones replacing him". The self-serving conditions on the change the Libs are willing to work toward dilutes the message about the need for that change in the first place - so parroting Harper's spin on the NDP and the Bloc plays right into his hands.

Steve V said...

You still haven't named ONE party that doesn't fight for every vote for themselves anywhere, including YOUR own?

Again, not really concerned about how you guys react, obviously a narrow choice is pure death to your fortunes. I do, however, think a early frame, repeated over and over during a campaign, might just draw a few undecideds, who hate Harper, into our column. I mean, the idea that only two people can become PM, isn't exactly an illogical absurdity.

Gayle said...

"The argument isn't "pick any party besides Harper", it's "Harper is bad and must go", full stop..."

If Jack Layton were that interested in getting rid of Harper, he would not have worked so hard to get him elected in the first place.

Steve V said...

Tweet today:

ElizabethMay: Ignatieff urging Green voters to vote Lib to stop Harper (12-26 on CTV). Cynical politics does not encourage voting!

ottlib said...

"I mean, the idea that only two people can become PM, isn't exactly an illogical absurdity."

Actually, it is the accepted axiom of Canadian federal politics. Canadians still only trust the Liberals or a conservative party to form government. Nothing that has happened over the last half-decade has changed that.

With two exceptions over the last 60 years a conservative party has only won government in this country when the NDP has managed to syphon off enough votes from the Liberals to allow the conservative party to come up the middle. The conservative party usually enjoys that situation for about two elections before those loaned votes go back to the Liberals.

That is the simple reality of Canadian federal politics and the Liberals reminding the electorate of that reality a few weeks before an election call is appropriate and wise.

Whether those loaned votes are ready to switch back yet remains to be seen but whether it happens in a few weeks or during the election following the next one it will happen.

Fred from BC said...

ottlib said...

With two exceptions over the last 60 years a conservative party has only won government in this country when the NDP has managed to syphon off enough votes from the Liberals to allow the conservative party to come up the middle. The conservative party usually enjoys that situation for about two elections before those loaned votes go back to the Liberals.


That used to be the situation, yes. But times have changed, and Canadian political realities along with them. Your party is no longer the Natural Governing Party that you once were, and the reasons for your fall from grace are still very much in evidence. I've mentioned this many times already (on this and other blogs), so I'll just refer you to the recent Toronto Star (the national Voice Of The Liberals, right?) column on the subject. AP is quite correct, and you know it.

Get rid of Ignatieff AND Rae before you do irreparable damage to your party...if it's not already too late...

Steve V said...

Fred

Just so you know, Liberals laugh at AP, nobody takes him seriously. That you guys do, well...

Gayle said...

Oh look. Fred wants to help the liberal party!

Ha ha ha ha ha

CK said...

Ottlib & Gayle You're correct.

Here's something from 2006, just after Harper was first elected to office. I think it's relevent today;

http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/2006.05-politics-jack-layton-ndp-fake-left-go-right/

Steve, thanks for posting that. You'll see, though, it's an unpopular position, but it's absolutely true--in more ways than one.

Robert McClelland said...

My friends in other parties will mock the frame, but from the Liberal perspective I think the early "two choices" distinction is spot on.

I concur, but the choices are between the Librocons and the NDP.

A reader said...

I suppose, but doesn't the fact that Ignatieff is only appealing to NDP and Bloc voters kind of imply that he's afraid to take on the Conservatives directly? Isn't it kind of a weak pitch that indirectly acknowledges and therefore reinforces the Conservatives' strength?

Wouldn't a stronger pitch be to the folks who voted Conservative but are disappointed? It seems to me that's the only way for the Liberals to truly make progress.

There are seats in Ontario where you are the only opposition party that can defeat a Conservative incumbent. There are seats in western Canada where we are. How about if we each go after the low-hanging fruit, and actually turf them out as a government afterwards?

Ah well, I guess it hasn't sunk in yet that you can't possibly form a government on your own anymore, and so you're trying to come out on top in an increasingly smaller sliver of the pie instead of taking on the big boys directly. If you did that, you wouldn't need to make the argument about the big red tent, because it would be communicated self-evidently through your actions. This way it just sounds like weak spin - and from someone who's not very good at it either (Iggy I mean, not you).

CK said...

A reader: "...mply that he's afraid to take on the Conservatives directly? Isn't it kind of a weak pitch that indirectly"

In a way, could that be a reassurance to that Timmy Horton's segment who do make up the majority of Canadians who are scared of coalitions? After all, coalitions will be a part in Harper's election question of "Give me a nice stable majority or the unstable coalition who will ruin the country..." Essentially, what Iggy has done, was ruled out a coalition from onset.

JimBobby said...

Essentially, what Iggy has done, was ruled out a coalition from onset.

Yes, he did rule out a coalition and continues to do so. Too bad he closed that door. Our new GG just went on record confirming the legitimacy of coalition government. Instead of a futile attempt to woo BQ, NDP and Green voters to what most of them see as an unpalatable choice -- voting for a less-than-liberal Liberal leader -- all of the opposition parties could be embracing the coalition idea and selling it to voters. With the GG on board, it could be an easier sell than trying to get dyed in the wool Dippers and Greenies to hold their noses and vote LPC.

By ruling out a coalition, Ignatieff played right into Harper's framing. Many of us never were scared of a coalition and argued (correctly) that it is a legitimate form of government. Since the last election, a coalition has taken charge in the UK. Casting aspersions on such alliances is decidedly more difficult now.

Unfortunately, Ignatieff has declared coalition to be as unacceptable to him as it is to the CPC. One more point on which the LPC leader and the CPC leader are in sync. Too bad Iggy painted himself into this corner.

ottlib said...

Fred:

Your response to my post is a classic demonstration of what is wrong with political commentary both professional and amateur. You do not look past the current political situation.

For you the last five years have marked a sea-change in Canadian politics. Where that could be true we will not know if that is the case for a very long time.

However, the trend of the last 60 years, the one I described in my comment, has not shown any sign of breaking down.

The Conservatives have won two straight elections mainly because of the NDP syphoning off votes from the Liberals in key areas to allow the Conservatives to win.

In the last two elections, despite lousy campaigns by the Liberals and gains by the NDP, the Liberals still gained the second highest percentage of the vote and they are the Official Opposition. They are the ones poised to replace the Conservatives and probably much sooner that you would care to contemplate.

Their is no evidence that the last five years is anything more than the latest chapter in a long standing political story in this country. It is only a matter of time, and probably a short time, before the Liberals win another election.

Steve V said...

There is no real point in talking about a coalition until after the election. To say "yes, we're open" doesn't work from the Liberal perspective, because you are essentially telling voters it's okay to split the vote. Vote splitting is the NUMBER ONE ally for this government.

If people want a formal arrangement where we don't run against each other, that's fine. However, I've done the riding by riding analysis, and that means the NDP would have to not run a candidate in 2 to 3 times the ridings the Liberals would acquiese. Pitch this real world scenario and the NDP coalition champions run away with zeal. Let's face it, for or against, it's all based on that party's self interest, the rest is just convenient, selective moral standing. Really interested in getting rid of Harper and forming a coalition, then agree to not run in ridings you have no chance in!! Silence....

The Mound of Sound said...

To say those voters you're after "flip on a dime" is wishful thinking Steve. What they do is stay home, avoid the polls entirely. Those are the voters Iggy needs to energize, the nine or ten million who can deliver a majority when enough of them are motivated to vote. Harper has had plenty of chances but he hasn't reached them. If anything SH has swelled the ranks of the disengaged but MI has had a big roll in that too.

Steve V said...

"To say those voters you're after "flip on a dime" is wishful thinking Steve."

No it's not, we've seen it over and over, particularly in vote rich Ontario. The problem political geeks like ourselves have is noting how disengaged the rest of the population is, how easily the non hardcore partisan can move around. There is no deeply invested party affiliation for a large percentage of the population. It is true many undecideds don't vote, but there is still such a large subset, to dismiss as "wishful thinking" seems a real blind spot.

I agree nobody has caught fire, but given voter turnout last election, you can hardly blame "MI" for the situation. I guess Dion was a complete failure then, if that's your measure... Libs stayed home in the last election, that's the bottomline.

The Mound of Sound said...

Of course Dion was a failure. "Total failure" however is defined by the former Tory leader, Kim Campbell, and Dion kept well clear of that mark.

Steve V said...

Mound

What I'm saying there, Dion gave us a reason to vote, a very bold policy initiative. Instead of bringing people out, it turned them off, instead of rallying progressives behind a real Liberal flag, it became more disjointed than ever. I just wonder what the lesson there was...

JimBobby said...

The lesson of Dion is send a salesman to sell things. Dion had a bold policy alright but his sales technique was worse than pathetic. He allowed the Green Shift to be defined as a carbon tax, pure and simple, by dribbling out the details. He started by confirming a "price on carbon" two weeks before explaining it to be revenue neutral. By then, the Cons had seized the initiative and defined what Dion failed to define.

That said, LPC polling under Ignatieff has not been much (if any) better than under Dion. Can he keep would-be Liberal voters from staying home any more effectively than Dion? The polls suggest that he can't. At least not now. Perhaps, the party can grab an issue that resonates with progressive voters and Ignatieff can demonstrate electability by championing that issue.

A sizable majority of Canadians want us out of Afghanistan ASAP. Ignatieff had a chance to get out in front of that parade. Instead, he and Bob Rae did exactly what Harper hoped they would do. The antiwar vote will bolster NDP (and Green) support while sapping support from the now hawkish LPC.

The Mound of Sound said...

Steve, Dion was well-intentioned but politically incompetent. He lost control of the "Green Shift" initiative before it was ready to be unveiled. Harper and Layton were able to pounce on it, to frame the issue in the public's mind, before Dion had an opportunity to explain it. Dion was put on the defensive and remained there. Harper ducked all the issues that should have worked against him by transforming the election into a referendum on Dion and the policy almost no one understood.

While it was an important policy, the Green Shift was never suited to an election platform. It required the resources only available to a government to introduce, educate, explain and sell that sort of policy. The Liberals didn't have anything approaching the resources, much less time, needed for the task. They merely handed Harper a vehicle that allowed him to avoid having to answer for his own record. Steve was shrewd enough to see the golden opportunity and he seized it.

CK said...

"A sizable majority of Canadians want us out of Afghanistan ASAP."

Do they really? There's no real evidence to suggest such a thing.

In fact, recent polls do support some kind of continuing role at the very least. Most have swallowed the "we've been helping girls and women" kool-aid. Many still want to avenge the Taliban, whom they still believe is largely responsible for 9/11.

Then, there are others, like myself, who have long since resigned themselves to the fact that this war will never end; that it has stopped being a deal breaker.

Again, You have to venture to the Tim Horton's crowd; outside the circles of progressive bloggers and friends.

If it were true that most want that war to end ASAP, why haven't the NDP surged way ahead in first place, in every polling firm since Harper announced the extension?

Fred from BC said...

Steve V said...


Just so you know, Liberals laugh at AP, nobody takes him seriously. That you guys do, well...


I don't know any Conservatives that actually read the Red Star (the National Voice Of The Liberal Party) nor do I know anything about AP himself (and like you, not even gonna attempt to spell his name;), so I'll take your word on that. I just happen to agree with what he wrote, that's all. So do a lot of Liberals, judging by what I read on other Liberal blogs. Ignore this at your own peril, Steve...

Fred from BC said...

Gayle said...

Oh look. Fred wants to help the liberal party!


In fact, I do...and I've said it before on this blog and others. A strong Liberal party is better than a weak one, because that means a stronger NDP. Although I prefer a Conservative government and Liberal opposition (okay, strong enough to keep my own party honest. Happy now?..;), I could live with a Liberal government again.

But the NDP? NEVER.

NEVER EVER. That would be the end of Canada as we know it...


Ha ha ha ha ha


Stay classy, Gayle.

Fred from BC said...

ottlib said...

Fred:

Your response to my post is a classic demonstration of what is wrong with political commentary both professional and amateur. You do not look past the current political situation.



That's probably true, but only because I don't see the relevance in doing so. It's like Hollywood to me: you're only as good as your last picture.


For you the last five years have marked a sea-change in Canadian politics. Where that could be true we will not know if that is the case for a very long time.


Possibly. I know *I* haven't seen a Canadian political landscape to match this one. Have you?



However, the trend of the last 60 years, the one I described in my comment, has not shown any sign of breaking down.


Except for the presence of the BQ, you mean? Fair enough. We'll see which one of us is correct, I suppose.

(and thanks for demonstrating the maturity and respect for other opinions that is so often lacking around here, ottlib. A pleasant surprise..)