Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Election Planning

The Hive starts the discussion on what the NDP's tactics should be going into another election campaign. I agree with the point that the NDP needs to learn from the past election and not make the same mistakes - but what were those mistakes, and what can we do differently this time out?

I strongly agree with Stephen that we can't simply say we'll get the Liberals to act more like Liberals, for two reasons.

First, contrary to Vicky's comment, a mere split of progressive voters is a recipe for permanent fourth-party status, not "the preferable thing". We should be critiquing the Liberals as being neither progressive nor a deserving governing party in the first place, not as merely needing a small NDP push to express their true progressive selves in government.

Second, voters pay attention to a party's goals. I've mentioned before my frustration with the "we can be an important small party" angle, even if it is the most realistic assessment of the party's position for the immediate future. People want to vote for a winner, and will run away in droves from a party which aspires merely to be the lesser part of a coalition.

So what's the alternative? Based on point two, I don't think there's any option but to campaign based on the premise that the NDP is a better government option than the other federal parties.

Compared to the Conservatives, I'm not sure that'll be as tough as conventional wisdom would hold. Harper's ratings are in the tank, the party's popularity has declined despite a rough session for the Liberals, and of course Layton hasn't lost the bulk of his personal advisers in the last couple of weeks. Make the message "If Harper can't run his own party, how can he run a country?"

What about compared to the Liberals? That'll be a lot tougher this time out, though "in power too long" is always a good message to have on one's side. And of course there are lots of accountability issues to point out, especially in contrast to the NDP's productive role in Parliament.

The above message almost certainly won't be successful in reaching a stated goal of government this time out, but it's still the right message for both the short and long term. The realistic upside for the NDP is to narrowly place itself as the official opposition - but with an eye toward forming government next time out, not merely trying to have the most influence possible as a minority party.

Whatever strategy the NDP chooses, there's no doubt that it's going to have a tough fight on its hands. But the potential gains are greater than Stephen suggests: if the NDP plays its cards right, it can both reach close to the maximum set of potential Dipper voters, and shift the public's expectations such as to expand that set for Election 2010. The only problem is that the NDP has to believe this is possible before the public will believe it.

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