Friday, July 10, 2015

The Harper Game Plan: Taming the dragon

A must-read article by Bruce Livesey in the  National Observer should send chills down the spines of the 60% of Canadians who do not want Stephen Harper to win another election in October.

Here is a snippet about the Kenny outreach to conservative minorities:

Another effective strategy was championed by Jason Kenney, who would later be Harper’s immigration minister (and current defence minister) – tapping into the rich pool of voters among new immigrants. These voters had traditionally voted Liberal, but Kenney saw that many of them were social conservatives and felt the Tories had ignored them for too long.

“They stole that constituency [from the Liberals],” says Kinsella. Indeed, between 2007 and 2013, financial contributions from the Canadian Chinese community to the Tories almost doubled.

And the origin of the slice and dice campaigning strategy (my underlining):

But who were those key swing voters? One person who had a notion was Patrick Muttart, who became one of Harper’s top political advisers after 2004. Muttart had risen through the ranks of the PC and Reform parties before becoming a public relations manager of a hotel chain and working for Jaime Watt, a former Mike Harris political adviser in Toronto.



“I think [Muttart] really helped us clarify our approach to communications – to targeting who we wanted to reach and what sort of messages would work,” says Flanagan. “He was a fulcrum for a more sophisticated approach that paid off in the 2006 campaign.”

For one thing, Muttart had developed a rich knowledge of how conservative parties worldwide were winning elections, in particular in Australia. He was intrigued by the success of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a conservative who ended 13 years of Labour rule in 1996 before going on to win three consecutive elections. Howard adopted a market segmentation approach to appeal to “the battlers” – hard-working families struggling to raise their kids on small incomes. Focusing on this group had helped Howard win and Muttart was determined to find equivalent groups for Canada’s Conservatives.

“Close campaigns are decided by the least informed, least engaged voters,” Muttart once told Jennifer Lees-Marshment, a New Zealand-based political scientist. “These voters do not go looking for political news and information. This necessitates brutally simple communication with clear choices that hits the voter, whether they like it or not.”

One of Muttart’s messages to Harper was to not waste time and money on voters who would never vote Conservative. This was a break from the past when Tories and Liberals conducted mass marketing campaigns to appeal to median voters.

Now, the Tories were looking at segment marketing – with the idea of turning a coalition of subsegments of the electorate into a governing force.

This approach is known as “hypersegmentation”, whereby the party’s polling would identify voter’s demands and then allow the Conservatives to design ads to appeal specifically to them, helped by focus groups. Flanagan has called it “slice and dice politics.”

Indeed, Muttart broke the electorate down into types and gave them names: such as the “Zoes” — young, single, female, progressive downtown apartment-dwellers who would never vote Tory and therefore should be ignored. On the other hand, there were the “Steves and Heathers” – married, Protestant, small business owners with children in their 40s living in the suburbs; or the “Eunices” – widows in their seventies living on a modest pension – all of whom could be persuaded to vote Conservative if ads and policies were designed for them.

And the problem that voters saw through a lot of this:

The Tories still had the problem of Harper’s personality: He was not an easy guy to sell. “We did all sorts of focus groups after the 2004 election [on Harper],” recalls Armour, “and I remember going into a room where Tom Flanagan was going through all of the topline results and a report back from the pollsters and him turning to me and saying ‘My God Jim, it’s worse than we thought — they see him exactly as he is’.”

There were attempts to humanize Harper by having him wear sweaters, or photo ops of him throwing a football on the front lawn of Parliament Hill. In the end, says Flanagan: “Ultimately, the main thing has been to portray him as a competent and reliable leader. Someone you don’t necessarily have to feel warm about but someone who will get the job done and deliver results…You’re not going to turn him into pretty boy Justin Trudeau… You showcase what you have.”

Don’t count the Harperites out just yet.

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