Google key word search: How Federal parties label Canadians

NDP-cloud“The Conservatives refer to Canadians primarily as taxpayers, the NDP talks about the working class, and the Liberals like to say we are citizens,” said Liberal candidate Rob Oliphant recently at an All Candidates Meeting in Toronto.

Sounds good. It seems like a neat way to summarize the core difference between the parties.

Can we confirm Mr. Oliphant’s observation? We informally reviewed party platforms and websites for the type of key phrases they use. We used widely available online tools.

The Conservative platform refers to tax, taxes and taxpayers almost 200 times. The term hard-working family and hard-working Canadian is also used over and over again.

In contrast, the NDP platform refers to taxpayers four times, mentions citizens eight times and makes numerous references to working parents, working moms and dads, and the working poor. We could not find any references to the “working class” as a group.

The Liberals refer to taxpayers twice and refer to our role as citizens six times. Working parents are barely mentioned in the lengthy platform. (Then again, all parents contribute to society and work hard, including stay-at-home parents.)

What about the websites of the leading parties?

If you need more evidence the Conservatives like to control communications, here it is: several widely used online tools to analyze key words were unable to search www.conservative.ca.

In contrast, identical tools applied to www.ndp.ca and www.liberal.ca  reveal some interesting points. “Tom Mulcair”, and not much else, seems to matter most to the content writers of the NDP site; very few additional key words are used. The Liberal site uses key words such as “real change” and, as expected, the phrase “Justin Trudeau” pops up regularly. Middle class is also a key phrase on the Liberal website. Neither key word search produced our desired terms: citizen, taxpayer or working class Canadians.

So how would you prefer to be labelled, if you needed to make a choice? The Conservatives seem to have hijacked the term (hard) working (class) families while the NDP fails to claim its roots as a party fighting for the traditional working class. If the Liberals want to appeal to our pride as citizens, neither their platform nor website make much of an effort.

So, take your pick on October 19. What would you rather be: a taxpayer, a citizen, a member of the working class, all of the above, or just a middle class Canadian who wants to protect the economy while bringing real change to Ottawa during a time when we all worry about health care and the environment?

Leaders’ Debate 2015: turning point in Canadian journalism or predictable dud?

2015-debate

The Globe and Mail likely squeezed every bit of coverage from the Leader’s Debate it hosted last week, so let’s discuss why this political event may have long-term impact, or not.

The Globe heroically managed to distill not just Debate Highlights from the 90 minutes show between national party leaders Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau. Editors also treated its audience to Memorable Moments and Best Exchanges. Moreover, the newspaper made available an indispensable series of News Videos to highlight newsworthy items such as Harper’s ‘old stock’ comment (which we were all shocked to learn, no doubt, caused hype on social media). Numerous columns and stories provided further analysis and summaries in print and online.

Meantime, on debate night Sept. 17th, CBC The National broadcast a debate about the debate. (Correction: viewers were treated to an analysis by the country’s most-watched national political panel.) Host Peter Mansbridge, presumably in a moment of weakness, couldn’t resist pointing out that an event hosted in Calgary used a backdrop showing parliament buildings halfway across the country in Ottawa. Broadcast amateurs they all are, those folks at the Globe and Mail, right?

Rather than news coverage generated or voters’ response, what seems rather  revolutionary about the event is this. A stately print publication broadcast one of Canada’s largest national election events. All this while Green Party’s Elizabeth May, excluded from the debate, creatively managed to comment from the sidelines with a series of Tweets.

As online news platforms mature, the lines between broadcast and print continue to blur. This  Leaders’ Debate demonstrates just how far media outlets have ventured into their competitors’ traditional territories. Will this Globe broadcast come to be seen as a turning point in Canadian journalism when print, broadcast, social media and online news gathering inescapably merged into one joint news stream?

The jury may be out if this fluid media landscape will make professional, unbiased political journalism more or less accessible to average Canadians in the long run.
In terms of ratings, the new format seems to be a bit of a (predictable) dud.

One news outlet reports that 300,000 watched at least part of the political showdown on YouTube. News 1130 further reports that this compares to Maclean’s Debate earlier this summer which gained total viewership of 4.3 million. In contrast, 10.6 million viewers tuned into the 2011 English debate on national TV when in April CBC-TV/Radio-Canada, CTV, Global Television and TVA worked together to orchestrate the political showdown.

NDP’s new appetite for balanced budgets predictable. Learn why!

Icecream vendorsDon’t be surprised by the NDP’s sudden passion for balanced budgets during this election campaign.

It may sound like expedient role reversal, a cynical attempt to distill fears about the party’s big spending reputation.

However, I’d like to argue that Tom Mulcair’s appetite for balanced budgets was rather predictable for anyone familiar with a long-established theory. The Median Voter Theorem explains how political parties in democracies will by necessity move to the centre if they are serious about winning elections. It’s about brand building and PR, not ideology.

Have a look at this 6-minute Animation. It helps explain the Theorem by applying it to a non-political scenario. Two ice cream vendors (the parties) fight to gain customers (voters) in a city block. It also explains the Theorem’s origins in Harold Hotelling’s spatial model of firm strategies in a competitive marketplace.

So, expect more of the same from our political leaders as this campaign unfolds and the fight for undecided voters intensifies. All leaders will move as far to the centre as they can without completely alienating their core constituencies.

Selfies smart PR strategy for campaigning politicians

Selfietripper

Illustration by Paul Faassen first published in Vrij Nederland, 11July 2015

At a recent campaign event, Justin Trudeau was giving lots of kids the opportunity to take a selfie with him. Smart move by our Liberal Leader.

If nothing else, he validated the parents’ decision to drag their children out to a political event early in the morning. And, these kids may well boost voter turn-out among youth in the near future.

At times, it must be painful for our national party leaders to suffer through endless selfie assaults by the party faithful.

But it’s also a great PR strategy.

The selfie has become a mandatory tool to illustrate our success in life, says Dutch writer Els Quaegebeur, in her recent article in the weekly news magazine Vrij Nederland. She adds, when we send these pictures we no longer need to explain our success, we demonstrate it.

(Are these images are our new postcards? Forget putting a piece of cardboard on the fridge. We can now Tweet, post, share, email, text, and Snapchat the evidence of our latest adventures.)

Once posted on social media, our selfies are the new show ‘n’ tell: Look, I met a famous Canadian! Hey, I met Trudeau (or fill in ____ for your favorite politician).”

In the process, these innocent pictures turn into powerful brand building tools for political leaders. The selfies we share on social media turn into thousands of public endorsements. “Me and my smiling MP”; last time I checked, that’s free, positive PR and leverages the exhausting, costly campaign events politicians must attend across the country to get (re)elected.

Go ahead then, do your share to build the brand of your favorite politician – try to grab a selfie at the next rally you attend, enjoy the moment, and hit the social media circuit.

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Why Trudeau’s pics help cement relationships with young voters

TrudeauGlobe and Mail’s Daniel Leblanc recently asked photo editor Michael Davis to evaluate pics distributed by  PM Stephen Harper, and party leaders Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair.  His feature A Snapshot of How Federal Leaders Frame their Image deserves a second look now Canada Day officially kicked off the political BBQ season.

In evaluating the politicians’ images, Davis declares Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau the winner when it comes to building a positive brand image with his official pics. (Remarkably, Mr. Davis sifted through an estimated one million pictures while working as the lead photo editor in the George W. Bush White House. He can’t be accused of political bias).

Mr. Trudeau “is willing to be openly perceived as he is, not as he is crafted,” observes Mr. Davis. He adds, “It suggests he is much more open to being photographed. As a consequence, he comes across as a much more sincere, caring candidate and human.”

And, I suggest, this is yet another reason why Mr. Trudeau seems to appeal to younger voters. They have been surrounded by an unprecedented stream of social media images since their early teens.  Younger voters can spot a fake pic from a mile distance. Photo ops of smiling men in dark suits holding babies? The Snapchat, Instagram and Flickr crowd won’t buy the message.

Fretting about vote splitting in this 3-way race? Worry about boosting voter turnout instead

Green Party’s Elizabeth May continues to urge voters to stop fretting about vote splitting and instead start a “buddy system” (a.k.a “refer-a-friend” strategy).

Bravo! If every voter in the last federal election recruits one other person to vote in the next federal election, Harper’s Conservatives will be toast this fall, argues May.

Fair enough. Why not try a grassroots campaign? Why not drag our kids, their friends and young colleagues into the voting booth?

The refer-a-friend strategy may indeed boost voter turnout. However, I fear my generation has probably squandered our credibility when it comes to promoting democracy among youth.

Take Michael Ignatieff. In his latest book, the former Liberal Leader provides his insights into political life. In Fire and Ashes he outlines his own political trials and tribulations with significant writing skill. The book is conveniently subtitled Success and Failure in Politics (Random House Canada, 2013).

Ignatieff explains his relationship with the media. “Obviously, a straight answer to a straight question is a good idea, and when citizens put a question to you, such candour becomes an obligation. They elect you after all. The rules are different with the press. … You try never to lie, but you don’t have to answer the question you’re asked, only the question you want to answer.”

I’m into PR. I think I understand spin. Actually, I’ll admit I enjoy spin. Also, I don’t want to underestimate the unrelenting pressures our politicians experience every day with a news cycle on social media steroids. We demand from our politicians instant responses and offer little forgiveness.

Nevertheless, it seems disturbing that a respected intellectual such as Ignatieff, a former journalist himself, feels politicians don’t have to answer questions from the media if not convenient.

“You try never to lie,” says a man who aspired to lead Canada. May this be one of the primary reasons younger voters often feel politicians can’t be trusted and don’t have anything to offer?

Can a refer-a-friend strategy get voters to the polls when our political leaders openly admit that it’s OK to avoid answering valid questions from the media (say, about the current refugee and migrant crisis unfolding in Europe?).

Ironically, social media platforms, even though they may threaten the long-term survival of mainstream media, may yet save our democracy by forcing politicians to try brutal honesty or burn (like toast).

Ignatieff says it well when he observes outsiders like Barack Obama can win elections by mobilizing youth by using the power of social media to draw them into a political campaign.

Buddy system sounds so baby boomer, Ms. May. Let’s share, re-tweet, re-post, recycle and re-purpose a very neutral message: Dude, go vote, now!