Is the big blue machine slowing down?

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Ads, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | 4 Comments

Stephen Harper has faced many a scandal before, and has weathered each one. In the lead up to the 2011 election, it seemed like something new popped up each day – there was Bev Oda’s orange juice and trouble with “nots”, Bruce Carson’s fraud charges and escorts, Jason Kenney’s use of government resources to target “very ethnic” voters, “in and out”, and a historic contempt of parliament vote.

The end result was a majority government.

So it’s premature to say what impact, if any, the Mike Duffy Senate brouhaha will have on Harper’s re-election hopes.

While scandals befalling the Harper government aren’t new, the one thing we’ve never had reason to doubt was the Conservative Party ground game. They’ve raised more money than the Liberals and NDP combined every year since taking power and had 40,000 more donors than either opposition party in 2012. Their outreach into ethnic communities has become legendary, and there’s very good reason to believe the reason they regularly out-perform their poll numbers on Election Day is because of a superior get out the vote apparatus. If you go to Liberal conventions, the policy workshops are full of Liberals trashing everything the Conservative Party stands for, and the party renewal workshops are full of Liberals demanding their party copy every single aspect of the Conservative Party ground game.

So even when the poll numbers look bleak, there has always been a sense Harper can bounce back, and that the Big Blue Machine will microtarget and GOTV him an extra 4 or 5 points.

So this…this was unexpected:

Conservative campaign database fiasco costs party millions

The Conservative Party of Canada has scrapped a multi-million dollar database paid for by money raised through supporter contributions.

At least $7 million and perhaps as much as $9 million was used to pay for a database the Conservative Party was developing to track its supporters and donors.

The party is now reverting to its old system, the Constituent Information Management System or CIMS. That program is being rolled back out to MPs and riding associations over the next few months, starting with the four ridings facing November by-elections, according to a memo sent by the party’s acting executive director.

This story will soon be forgotten, but I suspect its impact on the next election will be far greater than anything Mike Duffy said last week. To begin with, the $7 million dollar price tag effectively snuffs out a year’s worth of fundraising advantage for the Conservatives. Seven million may not go as far as it used to, but it still pays for a lot of attack ads during Hockey Night in Canada.

Still, it’s not like their war chest can’t withstand the hit. The larger concern for the Conservatives is what kind of impact this might have on future fundraising efforts.

The first principle of political fundraising is that you convince the donor their donation will go towards a cause they believe it, be it an issue, getting a candidate elected, or stopping “the Ottawa media elite“. The donor expects their donation will help make a difference, no matter how small. They certainly don’t want it swallowed up by what Conservatives themselves are calling a “$7 million dollar boondoggle“.

It’s true this wasn’t a case of money being embezzled. It wasn’t spent on junkets or $12 orange juice. It may even have been a wise investment that simply didn’t pan out. But anyone thinking about donating $20 to stop those gun hating Liberals must now wonder if their donation will be put to good use. Moreover, the timing of this leak means gossip about the failure of C-Vote will dominate the hospitality suites at this weekend’s Conservative Party convention.

This failure also shatters the myth that the Conservative ground game is miles ahead of the competition. Even if they recover financially, they’re back where they were two years ago in terms of voter tracking, giving the competition time to catch up.

Not surprisingly, the Conservative Party has denied this “boondoggle” is quite as bad as the CBC report makes it out to be. Even if that’s true, this still must be considered a set back, and yet another sign that the vaunted Conservative machine is not running as smoothly as it once did.

As PunditsGuide noted back in January, what was a $7 million gap between the Conservatives and the cumulative Liberal/NDP fundraising totals in 2010 narrowed to under $2 million last year. The number of Conservative donors also shrunk, during a period where the Liberals increased their donor base by 37%, and the NDP by 91%. The CPC is still ahead, and their fundraising efforts have been strong so far in 2013 – but the gap is narrowing.

That means less money for television ads, though the failure of this spring’s “Justin Trudeau is too sexy to be PM” campaign further casts doubts on how effectively funds are being spent. Perhaps that ad campaign did plant seeds of doubt about Trudeau that won’t germinate for a year or two, but has been far less immediate or devastating that “Just Visiting” or “Not a Leader”.

These setbacks aren’t nearly as riveting as a Mike Duffy press conference, but they represent far more ominous signs that the Tories are in for a rough ride in 2015.

I Approve This Bill

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Ads, Federal Politics | 4 Comments

Like Michael Chong’s QP reforms, which died in parliamentary purgatory, this is a worthwhile bill by Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, albeit one unlikely to ever see the light of day:

Kevin Lamoureux, a Liberal MP from Winnipeg, wants all political party leaders to be forced to stand by the content of their ads, with U.S.-style endorsements or tag lines at the end, acknowledging that approval for the advertising comes from the top.

It wouldn’t kill negative advertising by any means, but it would at least make political parties wear whatever mud they throw. While I’m sure the Tories will shoot this bill down, they have been the victims of some truly nasty ads themselves in the past, so it’s one they should at least consider.

Liberals Respond Justin Time

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When the Conservatives launched attack ads against Stephane Dion in January 2007, it took the Liberal Party three months to respond. Never again, they vowed. Next time we’ll fight back!

Just Visiting first aired in May 2009, yet we didn’t see a rebuttal until Labour Day .

So the first thing you need to know about the new Justin Trudeau ads, released today, is that the Liberal Party has learned its lesson (and all it took was the near destruction of the party!). In politics, you must define or be defined, and those who let themselves be defined wind up leading guest lectures rather than governments.

The form this counter-punch has taken is to briefly address the attacks then, quite literally, change the channel to Justin’s more positive message. It’s exactly what I called for last week – use the attack ads as a foil to further define Trudeau as the positive and optimistic candidate. Trudeau promised “hope and hard work” in his showcase speech, and this ad is right on message.

The classroom setting is a nice touch given the Tory ads attacked him for being “just a teacher”. I know it’s a very minor detail, but I dig the math on the blackboard, if only because it subtly makes the viewer think “serious math teacher” rather than “drama teacher who enjoys taking his clothes off”. Similarly, gently reminding Canadians that he’s a father projects a certain level of maturity. Like I said – define, or be defined.

If I wanted to walk from Math class to Biology, we could further dissect every line and detail of the ads but, at this stage, the important thing is that the Liberals responded and they responded on message. That may not sound like a lot, but for a party that failed to do this the last two times out, that’s a huge win.

This Just In: Voters Feel Negative Ads Are “Negative”

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Ads, Federal Politics | 23 Comments
Respondents describe the ads as "unfair", "negative"...and "hot!".

Respondents describe the ads as “unfair”, “negative”…and “hawt!“.

Trudeau’s predictable win, followed by predictable attack ads, has been followed by an all-too predictable poll:

In an EKOS Research Associates survey, 70 per cent found the ads “unfair” while 74 per cent said the ads were “unhelpful.”

Asked to describe the ads, 84 per cent said they were “negative.”

“The ads have backfired on the Conservatives, at least in the short term,” said EKOS President Frank Graves. “Many, many people think this was just the wrong thing to do at this point.”

Well, that settles it. Nothing to worry about, no need to respond. In fact, there are four other polls out showing the ads landing with a dud, which you can read here, here, here, and here.

Oh yeah, if you didn’t click on those links, they’re all from polls showing that attack ads against Ignatieff and Dion landed with a dud.

Justin Trudeau: Too Sexy For His Shirt, Too Sexy For Canada?

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The only thing more predictable than Justin Trudeau’s win in the Liberal leadership race was that it would be followed by Conservative attack ads. For those curious what the sequel to “Not a Leader” and “Just Visiting” would look like, the wait is over:

It should come as no surprise that the ad is repugnant, immature, and, as Stephane Dion would say – “completely unfair”. The central quote about Quebecers being better than everyone else is literally from a different century, and in the full interview, a 20-something Justin appears to be paraphrasing his father’s philosophy on why Quebecers don’t need special status.

We’ve come to expect out of context quotes from the Conservatives, but what is surprising is this level of slopiness. The companion ad uses the “just a teacher” attack, which merely gives Trudeau an opening to springboard onto his “what does Mr. Harper have against teachers” soapbox which he used to great effect last weekend. Oh, and that fake striptease footage that dominates the commercials? That came from a Canadian Liver Foundation fundraiser, where Justin’s little turn on the catwalk raised $1,900 to fight liver disease. Oops.

It’s safe to say the reaction to these ads will be overwhelmingly negative. But I’d remind people there was a chorus of criticism about the Dion and Ignatieff ads – they distorted the truth, they were “too mean” for Canada, they were sure to backfire. Some polls even showed Not A Leader landing with a thud among those who saw it. But those ads worked – even if no one wanted to admit they worked.

So it would be foolish for the Liberal Party to dismiss this latest assault with a wave and a laugh, or to assume the whole country has been innoculated against them by Trudeaumania. I suspect the core message – that Trudeau isn’t mature enough to be Prime Minister – will resonate with many Canadians. As Tom Flanagan would say, “it doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be plausible” – and no matter how ugly the packaging is, the message inside these ads is definitely plausible.

At every Liberal Party event I’ve been to over the past two years, someone has gotten up and said “we can’t let ourselves be defined by Conservative attack ads again”. Of course, Liberals said the same thing after the 2008 election, then snickered at the Just Visiting ads, confident they would backfire, given that Michael Ignatieff was far more popular and a far better politician than Stephane Dion. I don’t care how charismatic Trudeau is, he needs to hit back, and he needs to hit back immediately.

That said, I think lowering himself to Harper’s level, with a series of negative attack ads of his own, would be nearly as damaging as not responding. The challenge isn’t for Trudeau to define Harper, it’s to define himself – and by joining Harper in the mud, he’d dull the shine on his message of hope and optimism.

Rather, the Liberals need to open up the “leader defense fund” and get something on the air as soon as possible, where Trudeau talks directly to Canadians and addresses the ads – but then pivots to the positive. Have Justin remind Canadians the reason he’s in politics is to move beyond the nastiness that Stephen Harper revels in. Use the ads as a platform to share his vision, and talk about the future he wants for his children.

The Tory ads are clumsy and mean spirited, but we’ve seen clumsy and mean spirited work before. If Trudeau punches back quickly with a positive message then maybe, just maybe, these ads will serve as the foil he needs to prove he practices the type of optimistic politics Canadians long for.

Who had June 25th in the pool?

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Ads, Federal Politics | 9 Comments

The much-anticipated Thomas Mulcair attack ads have arrived:

Other than changing the off-grey colours from red to orange, this doesn’t look to be much more than a recycled anti-Liberal TV spot – torqued policy positions, lots of talk about “risks”, and a cameo by the scary carbon tax.

But while the style is reminiscent of attack ads of yore, there is one striking difference between this and the “Just Visiting“/”Not a Leader” campaigns. Simply put, the Tories have adopted a far more policy-based strategy when it comes to defining this leader of the opposition. Dion was branded as wimpy and weak, Ignatieff as an intellectual snob. This ad doesn’t even contain so much as a gratuitous “he’s out of touch” pot shot, despite plenty of opportunities to slide something of the sort in.

Rather, the focus is squarely on NDP policies (or “theories” as the ad mischievously calls them) – both real and, in the case of the carbon tax, imagined. That’s likely the best strategy, given the NDP’s vulnerability on economic issues, and Harper’s never-ending mantra about maintaining our “strong, stable, economic recovery”.

But it’s also possible the Tories have yet to come up with an attack on Mulcair’s personality and leadership skills they feel will leave a mark.

Alberta Votes Day 25: "Fuck it, I’m voting PC"

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When you know the PCs are going to take 70% of the vote in your riding and 80% of the seats in the province, there’s not a lot of strategy involved in your vote. You vote your conscience, knowing there is no way your check mark could possibly make a difference. It’s no surprise the majority of Albertans didn’t bother voting in 2008.

This time, the Alberta election is all about strategic voting, which is why longtime Liberals like Warren Kinsella have done the previously unthinkable and saddled up with the PCs.

The strongest pitch to date for a strategic PC vote comes from this ad, produced by Calgary filmmaker Aviva Zimmerman:

It’s a slick ad and should be effective with its target demo (young, urban progressives), though that target demo tends to live in ridings the Wildrose has little chance of winning. It also says a lot about the state of the PC dynasty that their most compelling pitch to voters at this point is (and I quote): “I would rather have my face eaten off by rodents – but I’m voting for them“.

The Alberta Liberals stand to lose the most from strategic voting, and they’ve aggressively countered with a pitch of their own:

‘When Sherman contemplated a Wildrose government being questioned by a PC opposition in the legislature, he was worthy of a standup routine, whether you agree with his position or not.

“Why would you have a very right-wing government and a corrupt right-wing party that caused all the problems as your opposition?” he asked rhetorically.

“What are they going to question? What are they going to complain about? ‘Excuse me, you didn’t privatize enough, or you privatized too much, or too fast. Or excuse me … you didn’t neglect those seniors enough.’ It would be an absolute joke.”’

They’ve also launched a hugely entertaining “Wildrose or Tory” online quiz, to make the point that the “more progressive” option isn’t really any more progressive.

The impact of this strategic voting campaign remains to be seen. I remember an analysis of the 2004 federal election showed that Harper benefited from the “Stop Harper” movement because NDP supporters voted “strategically” in many NDP-CPC swing seats. The same thing could very well happen in Calgary or Edmonton this time out. But regardless of the result, this marks the first time in a long time its been worth Albertans’ time to give serious thought to their vote.

Call me Tom

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After the NDP’s French ad last week, we get the English version:

The ad features a collection of what I can only assume are average hard working Canadians: guy in pick-up truck with dog, pregnant mom buying groceries, man with tools, young redheaded cyclist, female doctor, and bald jogger. They all seem impressed with Thomas Tom Mulcair and female doctor is confident he can beat Stephen Harper.

Cut to Olivia Chow for the Jack Layton endorsement, and a full suited Thomas Tom to reassure us that he’ll carry on Jack’s vision.

On the whole it’s not a bad ad, though it could certainly use more Mulcair forearm.

Meet Mulcair’s Arms

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The much-anticipated NDP attempt to define Thomas Mulcair has arrived, en francais at least. In it, we’re treated to close ups of Mulcair’s forearms (so that the Tories won’t dare call him a “weak leader”), then Tom rolls up his sleeves…

…cut to Mulcair in a suit. Why was he rolling up his sleeves in the previous scene? Or is this a flashback? Will we find out in the next ad? I’m baffled. This is season 4 of Lost all over again.

Regardless, Mulcair gets off the key NDP lines: listening, working together, green economy, plan, vision. All good things.

So on the whole, it’s not a bad introduction. I wouldn’t say it defines Mulcair, but he looks serious and pleasant at the same time, which is the important thing. The ad is about warming voters up to a man with a gruff reputation and, on that score, it should do the trick.

New Tory Ad Blitz

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The Tories have launched a pair of ads which they assure us will get plenty of air time. That’s probably true since, after all, they’ve got heaps of money and no election to spend it on.

Garnering the most media attention has been the following Bob Rae attack ad:

The content is about what you’d expect from a Bob Rae attack ad, so the speculation has centered primarily on why Harper would bother attacking the interim Liberal leader three years before an election?

My suspicion is this ad will receive very limited airtime, and is intended mainly to stir things up online. It re-opens the question of whether or not Rae will run for permanent leader, and leads to a very uncomfortable question for many Liberals – should they spend party funds to defend the interim leader? My answer would be an unequivocal “no”, but others will disagree, and anytime Liberals are squabbling internally, Stephen Harper is smiling.

After being reminded that the economic downturn of the early 90s was all Bob Rae’s fault, we learn that the current economic downturn shows us what a strong leader Stephen Harper has been. Uh-huh. This is the ad that will get the most airtime, for the reasons Paul Wells gets into here.

The short of it is that Harper has long been able to play the downturn into an advantage under the simple line that “Canada is better off than the rest of the world”. That’s an argument most people can get behind when they’re reading stories about the US economy circling the drain, but what happens when we get more and more stories about the US recovery outperforming the Canadian recovery? Frustration is going to set in, and voters will be looking for someone to blame – so why not blame the guy who has tied himself to Canada’s “strong, stable economic recovery”?

And that, is likely the largest risk Harper faces in 2015, more so than Robocon or any of the dozen other scandals we’ll all jump up and down about over the next three years.

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