Monday, May 18, 2009

On response patterns

Following up on this morning's post, I'll mention a few more broad observations on the Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidates' contributions to the latest issue of the Commonwealth.

Not surprisingly, all of the candidates appear to have directed a fair amount of attention to their Commonwealth answers, and there aren't a lot of areas of disagreement between the candidates on the issues canvassed. But there are still a few trends that turn up within the answers, as while the candidates' respective ways of speaking and thinking may have been less obvious in a fast-moving debate, they can be seen far more easily when answers to the same questions are placed side by side.

For Deb Higgins, the most striking aspect of her responses is the conversational style used even in her writing. While the other candidates' answers appear to have been more heavily edited, Higgins' sound basically like a transcription of an off-the-cuff response to the questions, typically mirroring the wording of the question and then responding in fairly general terms. That adds a certain folksiness to her responses, but also limits the amount of information she's able to cover in the limited space provided.

Dwain Lingenfelter's responses appear to break down largely into three groups. For most of the questions related to public policy, Lingenfelter is able to point to an existing policy on the issue, resulting in a thorough and neatly worded response. But for those areas where Lingenfelter lacks a current policy, his campaign doesn't seem to have been interested in getting his opinion on the record: in addition to the responses noted in my post this morning, his response to a question about revenue-sharing agreements with First Nations similarly contains little beyond a vague expression of support.

Meanwhile, Lingenfelter's answers on questions about party development are particularly noteworthy for their top-down feel. While his response to the candidate development issue looks to be the most obvious example of this (while being strong otherwise), others include statements that constituencies who meet membership targets should be "rewarded by the Party and the Leader", and that he would be "demanding more" of others within the party when it comes to outreach efforts.

In Ryan Meili's answers, one finds another point of similarity to the Obama campaign to add to those that have been identified earlier. While Meili's high-level campaign themes are likewise on the broad side (if perhaps not as much so as Obama's "hope" and "change"), his campaign also parellel Obama's commitment to evidence-based policy-making, linking that to outreach and member input as the necessary components of policy development.

As for Yens Pedersen, his answers live up to one of the promises made in his bio (written by his wife Maureen), as he provides concise explanations of complex issues raised in the questions. In particular, his answers on various forms of power generation manage to pack significant background information in with strong statements of principle, offering readers both a strong indication of Pedersen's plans and an explanation for them.

As a closing note, the Commonwealth also offers one other area of comparison aside from the candidates' text, as three of the four candidates also took out ads in the issue (Yens Pedersen being the exception). And two of those followed effectively the same strategy: Dwain Lingenfelter's used the back page to present a message nearly identical to that found in his campaign mailer, while Deb Higgins' half-page ad matches the front of her mailer word for word.

Then there's Ryan Meili's half-page ad, which includes a couple of twists. In addition to some of the same biographical information found on his mailer, Meili's ad includes a new list of policy priorities along with a theme ("Dream Big") not found in his mailer. And perhaps most interestingly, roughly a third of Meili's ad space consists of an idea box inviting members to send him their ideas for the party.

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