Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bursting Bubbles and Ground Games

Election day is now 12 days away, and the campaign is heading into the final phase. Between now and May 2nd we will have holidays (Passover and Easter), which will further cut into campaign schedules as candidates become increasingly focused on two things: polls and the clock.

When I look ahead and start consider what we might expect to see over these remaining days, I come down to a few things that I will be looking for.

1. Is the Liberal message getting traction; are they bursting out of the bubble? A huge part of their campaign has focused on the transgressions (real and otherwise) of the Conservatives. For their part, the Conservatives have tried to portray any accusations as process-related, Ottawa-centric non-events. Their gamble has been that they won't resonate in a meaningful way with the average Canadian.

The Liberal "rise up" refrain and the fact that they are persisting with it (and actually looking to take it to more people through a just-announced 30 minute "special" on the weekend), suggests they feel they are getting traction. If they are right, we have something interesting on our hands. If not, their chances move from slim to something less.

2. Building on the point above is the Liberal (and to a lesser extent NDP) message on health care resonating with voters. This is definitely an "outside the bubble" issue, and one that essentially comes down to trust. The Liberals have come out hard and need this to work, particularly among women voters - a key demographic for them.

3. How will we know what's happening with respect to points 1 and 2: the polls and the behaviour of the parties. An important thing to look for over the remaining days is whether the Leaders are staying on message, or whether they appear to be in "spray and pray" mode. If it's the former, it suggests that polling (and in particular their internal polling) is telling them they are getting traction. If it's the latter, they are in damage-control mode.

Also look at where the Leaders are spending their time. If you see Mr. Ignatieff spending a lot of time on the island of Montreal, or in downtown Toronto know that they are playing defence. If, however, you see him in ridings that could be turned to the Liberals it's because they feel they have a real chance. Similarly, if Mr. Harper is with his incumbents he is playing defence. If he's in Liberal ridings, he feels he has a chance.

As for the polls, as mentioned previously pay particular focus to the provincial results. The national average is becoming less meaningful. The real story is what is happening in the provinces - tightening in BC, Ontario and Quebec in particular.

4. Look at how parties are approaching the NDP. This applies to the Conservatives (in BC), the Liberals (in Ontario) and the Bloc (in Quebec..though you probably knew that one!). Messaging in respect of the NDP and Jack Layton will let you know who's worried, where and why.

The last thing I want to mention concerns the ground game. At some point in the very near future, it will cease to be about platforms, spin, talking points, visits, media coverage and twitter. It will become all about the ground game and the ability of a party to get its vote out.

The Conservatives are very strong in this area. A huge part of their messaging - in campaigns and while governing - has been focused on their base, keeping them energized and ready. That's why they are such good fund-raisers and that is an advantage for them on May 2.

Going into the campaign, this was an area of concern for me when I looked at the Liberals. Today, I am not as concerned. Throughout this campaign they have demonstrated a surprisingly strong ability to mobilize their people. They are also showing themselves to be more adept at using social media; something which, combined with their "rise up" message may be more likely to mobilize the youth vote.

So, what am I looking for? Bursting bubbles and solid ground games. What about you?

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