Sunday, October 18, 2015

#elxn42 Campaign Closer: Conservatives

With Canada's election day looming tomorrow, I'll take a quick look back at the campaign from the standpoint of each of the major parties.

Let's start with the Cons - who haven't exactly found an answer for the key problem they've faced from the start, but have managed to stay far closer in the race than they deserve by sidestepping it.

The Cons were never able to use their preferred plan to grind a primary opponent's leader to dust due to the reality that they've had to account for two parties and leaders with more immediate appeal than they could offer.

This time out, Stephen Harper has effectively never been seen more positively than either Thomas Mulcair or Justin Trudeau since they won the leadership title for their respective parties. But it wasn't until the middle of the campaign - when it became clear that both opposition leaders were going to remain broadly popular, and that no appeal to the lizard brain could boost Stephen Harper's personal appeal - that the Cons finally gave up on trying to win another leadership contest.

Now, they're reversed course toward a strategy which could hardly have been better coordinated with the Globe and Mail's much-mocked corporate endorsement. Rather than accepting a ballot question which involves Harper at all, their goal now is to turn the election into a question of Generic Conservatives vs. The Other Guys - leading to a focus on grossly oversimplified issue messaging, as well as a willingness to associate with anybody who can possibly appeal to even the smallest pool of hard-core conservative voters.

And that line of attack seems to have worked better than might have been expected.

While some of the more leader-driven portions of the campaign saw the Cons sink into the mid-20s in the polls, more recent numbers have them around or above the 30 per cent mark again. And there's probably still a combination of modest vote switching, trickery and vote efficiency which could position the Cons to have a real chance at maintaining power.

But the big question now is whether the Cons' past secret weapons (most notably the apparent election-day bump compared to previous poll results) will still apply after the shift in strategy. And it could be that the Cons have solidified their ideological base in advance of the election at the expense of the plan to build on that number when it counts most.

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