Wednesday, December 02, 2015

On balancing acts

For those wondering, I'm indeed following up on these posts and working my way through some of the factors in the NDP's federal election result. (For more on the subject, see the latest from Lawrence Martin, and Desmond Cole talking to Cheri DiNovo.)

I'll turn now to what's often been labeled the most important turning point of the campaign - that being the NDP's promise to balance the federal budget, in contrast to the Libs' commitment to run deficits. But the problem looks to me to have been less that the NDP took an unreasonable position, than that it didn't do enough otherwise to win what's come to be labeled the "progressive primary".

While I don't see DiNovo's comments in particular as accurately presenting the NDP's message (no, "austerity" was never on the table), they do reflect how the Libs managed to spin the NDP's position. And that's largely because the NDP's messaging early in the campaign was aimed at maintaining the party's consideration set with warm-and-fuzzy messages about Tom Mulcair and challenges to the Cons, sometimes at the expense of appealing to a progressive base which was apparently waiting to decide on its direction.

To be fair, the NDP may have expected its past messaging and policy work to have accomplished that task already. After all, both other major parties took the opposite side of issues including C-51, child care, and the minimum wage among others, while the Libs had seemed to run right more than left until the campaign began.

What's more, the NDP did plenty to earn the support of people who were paying attention to positions on specific issues. And while its platform didn't receive the attention it deserved (due in no small part to the party's choice to release it late and with little fanfare), it included plenty worth promoting.

Ultimately, I don't see the Libs as actually having earned the title of "more progressive" among any but a narrow subset of voters. But they did manage to confuse matters enough to ensure that values-based positioning wasn't a significant advantage for the NDP, particularly in terms of motivating its base supporters along with unaligned progressives. And that helped the Libs immensely when it came time for voters to settle on a choice based on affinity and electability.

To the extent the problem was one of muddied waters rather than clear distinctions, I have my doubts that following the Libs and announcing a willingness to run deficits would have radically changed the campaign, particularly if it seemed to be the result of calculation rather than commitment.

Instead, the problem seems to have been a single-minded focus on keeping remote connections to soft voters at the expense of motivating progressives - particularly when the primary goal should arguably have been a focus on the latter in order to facilitate the former closer to election day. And in my next post, I'll tie that choice to what looks like the core lesson to be taken from the NDP's successes and failures alike over the past few years.


  1. Here's a good analysis by Prof. John Ryan of Winnipeg:

    1. Thanks for the link Ray, and I'll address it in a post this weekend.

    2. After a more thorough read, I'm not sure I can do much but to question the author's accuracy.

      In particular he seems to unquestioningly accept Lib spin ranging from dubious to glaringly false on multiple issues dating back over a period of decades. And I have a difficult time lending any credence to somebody whose concern-trolling advice to the NDP is based primarily on trying to protect the interests of the Libs.

  2. Thanks for the link, Ray.
    To me, the reason the NDP lost and now keeps losing members and support can be summed up as:
    They do not listen to their members, not with regard to details nor policy and platform issues.

    The most traditionally progressive of the parties does not know how to listen.
    I'm still getting my head around this.
    I may be the next one to go. This election was very instructive.

    1. I wouldn't go quite that far, particularly until we see how the party responds without the temptation of leaning on a "default alternative" theme. (And things are looking good on the policy front since the election.)

      But I'd certainly contrast the NDP's success when it was more engaged with members and other activists (particularly on C-51) and its comparative weakness when it went into a shell during the campaign - and the lesson is well worth keeping in mind.