Saturday, September 06, 2008

Something To Consider

It's one thing for the opposition parties to warn about a possible Conservative majority, that seems entirely intuitive politically. What is more relevant, and it speaks to an non-partisan worry, the fact that Conservatives are attempting to lower the bar, entirely afraid to even mention the word "majority" in public. All parties play the expectations game, but I don't seem to recall past Liberal government's so intent on creating the perception that a majority isn't in the cards, in fact they embraced the mandate. When you have all parties agreeing that thoughts of a Harper majority are a negative for the Conservatives politically, it suggests an objective truth.

With that in mind, the emerging media narrative, "Harper on the cusp" is a positive frame heading out of the gate. I don't see the downside for the Liberals, if the media attaches little expectation, both for the party and Dion. Any student of political history, knows that "frontrunner" can be a dirty word. If you want a recent example, scan the comments of the respective Democratic and Republican primary contenders, forever running away from any suggestion that they were ahead, they had victory in their grasp, they were leading. The reason, media has a natural tendency to go after the frontrunner, largely ignoring the challenges, sometimes embracing the underdog.

I don't believe Harper is trending higher, plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. However, I have no problem with the media assuming that the Conservatives have wind in their sails, it will bring greater focus, more criticism and it sets the stage for a fall. Momentum on day one is quite a different animal than momentum on day thirty. The Conservatives apparently starting on the march, leaves room for the later perception that they are fading. The media doesn't focus on the also rans, they tend to be more critical of the perceived leader, forever, and unconsiously to some extent, looking to "tighten". We saw this dynamic during the Liberal leadership, when long odds allowed Dion to become the media darling, while others took the hits, he flew under the radar, gradually building momentum. Just one example, but we've seen the dynamic time and time again, it's almost a given that the media turns on the frontrunner.

Despite Conservative myths, the statistical facts of the last two elections, show that Harper received more favorable media coverage, relative to the Liberals ( RedStar and Globe and Mail included). The supposed left wing media demonstrated no such thing, they hunted the "leader", gave the contender a relatively free ride. When the polls tightened, then the media was consumed with momentum, and they rode that dynamic. That isn't to say this will occur now, in any predictive way, only to say that starting out "flat" isn't necessarily a bad reality in the long run.

If the Conservative team is overtly attempting to downplay expectations, it tells us that there is objective merit in the idea that a talk of a Harper majority doesn't work politically. The Conservatives understand that Canadians haven't embrace their party or leader, to the extent where anyone would be comfortable with unchecked power, any thoughts of that will bring potential backlash.

Again, Day 1 of a campaign generally shows no relationship to Day 30, so if the media wants to start the narrative on the question of a Harper majority, I see it as more gift than morale killer. If you don't believe me, just look at how the Conservatives themselves are reacting, it says it all.

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