Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Caution, may cause dizziness

We are now into week two of the Ontario election and you can start to see how each party is trying to shape the narrative and define for the voter the infamous ballot box question. As party leaders fan out across the province, they do so armed with speeches and talking points which have one simple objective - define the election on their terms.

Sounds like a good time to pause and consider this further. So let me start with the following observations...

1. Dalton McGuinty does not spend every waking moment coming up with ideas about how to tax Ontarians or take jobs away from those born here.

2. Tim Hudak does not define success by killing health care, laying off teachers or turning the environment into a permanent greenhouse.

3. Andrea Horwath does not have the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto tattooed on her arm, and is not looking to nationalize everything.

Yet, obvious exaggerations aside, these types of suggestions are often what we tend to hear as leaders and spin doctors try and shape a narrative for the voter. Why?

To start, each party has its core support; those that will consistently vote for them. These voters not only need to "hear themselves" reflected in the comments of the candidates, they also need to have their worst fears articulated for them. Like it or not, this will help a party mobilize their voters on election day - a key driver of success.

A second observation is that core support is not enough to take any party to victory. This means that in order to win, a party needs to pick votes from their opponents (difficult and therefore not a huge source of support), or convince a good portion of the undecided block of essentially centrist voters to vote for them (a potentially rich and decisive source of support).

How does one do this? Make yourself appear safe and your opponents...not so much. Put another way, parties are always looking for a wedge issue. They want to hit upon something that brings them closer to a voter while at the same time driving their opponent(s) further away.

The "tax incentive for hiring immigrants" versus "taxpayer dollars to hire foreign workers" is an interesting example of two parties trying to use the same issue as a wedge. The PCs jumped upon this Liberal platform commitment and have tried to frame it in a way that drives middle-class voters worried about their jobs to the PCs.

The Liberals (after adding more precision to their policy) jumped on the PC reaction in a way that attempts to frame the PCs as anti-immigrant - a key demographic in Ontario's urban centres.

It's too early to tell whether either approach will be successful, though watching to see which party persists with their message and which one moves on will give some sense as to what internal polling is telling them about their likely success.

Something worth considering is the fact that in many respects, the parties do not differ from one another on the big issues in a hugely significant way. When you consider this and then factor in the realization that in order to achieve success the parties are all essentially going after the same block of votes, you can see the importance of making sharp distinctions.


In the coming weeks, Ontarians will be bombarded with all manner of spin and argument - again. It happened last fall with the municipal elections, in the spring with the federal election and now today with the provincial election.

As you consider all that is thrown your way and start to feel dizzy, move beyond the spin. Make this election about more than what is suggested to you. Make it about what is important to you.

Speak your mind.

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