Sitting in on a political meeting the other day, I became bored after a while with all the discussion of what should be in the party’s election platform. It was not that I did not feel strongly about some of the issues raised but the litany of issues and opinions was endless. We were starting to waste time. While parties need these platform documents to differentiate themselves from other political parties and as a uniform song sheet for candidates, the fact is that campaigns on a national scale often come down to just one overriding gut issue.
Any political pundit knows that it is impossible to predict what that issue will be. They all try to create that issue and very, very few succeed. Too often, that issue is just an accident of timing. In 1972, I remember David Lewis, then leader of the NDP, had used the term “corporate welfare bums” four of five times in speeches before the news media would pick it up and it went on to become the key phrase of the election. The NDP won the balance of power in that election but Lewis failed to capitalize on his position and was trounced by Pierre Trudeau in the 1974 federal election.
When Lester Pearson ousted John Diefenbaker as Prime Minister in 1963, the key was nuclear warheads for Bomarc missiles in Canada. Canada’s language divide split the 2008 election into two key factors. Harper’s attack ads, that Dion failed to answer, allowed Harper to savage the Liberals in English Canada while Harper’s demonic treatment of cultural issues assured his defeat in Quebec. That election left Canadians with a parliament that has to combine the vote of all three opposition parties to defeat the minority Conservative government.
But defeat is assured. Harper’s Conservatives are hardly resting this summer as an election is more likely in the fall than next year. In the fall, the Liberals under Ignatieff, will be ready for an election and it will be very difficult for the Bloc or the NDP to alter course to support Harper. While there are ups and downs in the figures, the basic situation is that 30 per cent of voters are likely to vote Conservative, 30 per cent are likely to vote Liberal, at least 15 per cent of voters are going to vote NDP and 10 per cent of Canadian voters are going to vote for the Bloc. That means that the people who will really decide the fall election will be less than 15 per cent of our voters.
Even of that small percentage of the voters, we know that, at least, a third of them are going to scatter their votes on Greens, Libertarians, independents and others. They want to make their own statement and it is not worth the effort and time of anyone to get them to support someone who can win. What it boils down to is that one in ten of Canadian voters are the real decision makers and that is the group you need to reach with this gut issue that can make or break your campaign.
You can, of course, argue that the non-voters are also the decision makers. These are voters such as the probable Liberal voters from 2008 who failed to go to the polls because they expected Dion to be a loser. This is why for eons in North American politics, the riding politicos have concentrated on getting their identified voters to the polls. Any political poll captain, worth anything to the campaign, spends that last hour that the voting stations are open, desperately trying to get those last five to ten voters to the polls. And that effort is often made easier or more difficult based on the one key issue.
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