|Campaigns matter! It’s an old sod to describe outcomes for elections.
In the case of the 2014 Ontario provincial election, the phrase holds water – in a big way! Our team at K&A had an interesting vantage point during the Ontario election campaign, with members of our team working as operatives in and for all three Party’s candidates in several ridings across the province. In so doing, we had a bird’s eye view and tracked potential results we thought would be possible within the fights on the ground and the Leaders’ campaigns.
As context, at the outset of the election we were convinced that the outcome would be status quo. The quantitative and qualitative methodology we employed to guide our thinking provided us with comprehensive and detailed information. In short, we tracked the last five elections, extrapolated the data we collected – discounted an election here and there – and determined what we believed would be the outcome of the election based on math and historical voter preference(s).
By and large though, we based our projections on the outcome of the election on the following:
1) The Leaders’ campaigns and the resonance of their messages in and by the public,
2) Trending in the media and,
3) Voter Intentions
Here’s what we found:
Throughout the election the polls were everywhere.
In reality, political pollsters are experts in providing qualitative and quantitative research on public opinion. They deploy social media technology, telephony and focus groups to gather and record information – all of which is based on a moment in time. It is accurate and scientific.
Moreover, one of the more poignant pieces of research we uncovered was the following: 39% of individuals polled (in the aggregate) based their opinion on what they read or saw through the media (John Wright, Ipsos Reid – June 2014). This is significant and worthwhile fodder for our readers because it puts in perspective that the average voter may or may not have had an accurate or considered opinion that was formulated outside of what they read or saw in the media.
The media are a critical element in and for any major Party’s campaign. What has largely become a US Presidential style campaign tactic, political parties in Canada (from the national level to the provincial levels) tend to showcase their campaign(s) through what has become “the Leader’s Tour”. In effect, Party campaigns during elections are geared around activities and events of the Leader of the Party and that particular campaign dictates the tenor and tone of that Party’s impact in the media and ultimately in public.
During Leaders’ tours, the parties’ campaigns travel in packs with a moving backdrop and tour that includes “roadies”, advance people, security, policy and political strategists, media advisors and personal assistants whose singular job it is to showcase their leader and her/his message to the province through the mainstream media.
The province’s media outlets take a seat on the “tour” and are embedded on buses and planes that the Parties decorate with bells and whistles, great food and drinks. The Leader’s campaign has an embedded “wagon master” whose job it is to take care of all the needs and wants of the media when the Leader’s tour is travelling.
Events of, for and by the Leader of a Party are well scripted with trained advance people making certain that every detail is managed so that the media get the “perfect shot” of their leader for TV, radio or the daily newspaper AND that there are never any hitches that would cause media to report badly about a particular event or “whistle stop” on the Leader’s campaign tour. It is generally a stressful art for roadies and strategists to ensure that the tour is perfect.
In fact, based on the first couple of events of the campaign, the PC Leader’s campaign events looked great on TV. The backdrops were crisp; messages were clear and the crowds exuberant. As a result, in the early goings of the Hudak tour media reports made it seem as though the “Hudak campaign” was getting resonance in public and media on nightly news channels and on radio and local newspapers bore that out.
Compare that to the first couple of events of and for the Liberal campaign, which, at the start, smacked of old school whistle stops at the outset of the campaign and morphed into events that demonstrated that the Leader of the Liberal Party (Kathleen Wynne) was stealing a page out of federal Liberal campaigns of the past.
Then compare all that to the fact that the NDP tour hadn’t really established a campaign at all.
In the early goings of the campaign the advantage appeared to accrue to the Hudak campaign and in the minds of the voter because they saw or heard about these “crisp” events, the message from that campaign appeared to gain resonance and pollsters reported those opinions in the early polling they were doing.
The Party Platforms
It is always an expectation that Party’s release their plans or platform to the public when as a road map if they assume power. The party platform documents are released during an election and are accompanied by a full costing for their programs and plans. They are always good media.
The PC Party was the first off the mark with its plan. In effect, the PC Leader Tim Hudak released a platform with a plan to cut spending and create jobs for Ontarians. The million jobs promise included cost cutting measures like public sector wage freezes and getting rid of 100,000 civil service jobs. It was a bold move, but not unforeseen. In fact the PC Leader had many months to hone his campaign messages and theme and it appeared to be working for him.
There was resonance in public too. Polls released shortly afterward suggested that the Ontario public wanted clear and definitive action from government and for most Ontarians there was a collective nodding of the head – thinking “yah, that’s a good thing… “.
So as not to be out-flanked by the announcement of the Hudak plan, the Liberals appeared to gain resonance in their Leader’s campaign by having her visit Walkerton virtually the next day. The inferred message by Wynne to the public was, “if Tim Hudak is going to cut public sector jobs, we may see another tragedy…” like the Walkerton tainted water scandal that hit the Harris government in the late 1990’s. The media reports gained traction in public and polls conducted shortly after suggested that the Leader of the Liberal Party might be on to something. Resonance.
Shortly after the Liberals released their platform – to no one’s surprise it was a reprise of their Budget. The Liberal Budget, presented in early May 2014, was lauded by many including public and private sector unions and the para-public sector as a reasonable document whose approach to apparently managing an economy set to balance their budget by 2017 was considered positive. The big news was the billion dollars of development dollars for the Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario.
It appeared to be good media and, as a result, a positive bounce in the polls accrued to the Liberals.
Consider the NDP Leader’s messages that smacked of “me too”. Andrea Horwath leveled accusations of corruption in Liberal government and she appeared to further rationalize her motives for causing the election in the first place by suggesting that she could no longer support or prop up such a government. Not much though on a platform or plan if and when she assumed government. Media appeared to paint her campaign as faltering and there were suggestions that the NDP vote could collapse.
One would have thought that the Liberal Leader would have been prepared for the steady onslaught of vitriol fro both opposition party leaders during the debate and that she would have had better scripted answers.
Election debates for the Party Leaders is always good TV. The goal of any Party Leader is to deliver the “knock out” punch. History is rife with great examples of debates where leaders are verbally crucified by opponents – Kennedy- Nixon (1960), Turner – Mulroney (1984), Turner – Mulroney (1988), Peterson- Harris- Rae (1990), Benson- Quayle (VP debate 1996)- Ignatief- Harper- Layton (2011). The trick with debates is for a Leader not to falter or show anger or make gaffes during the debate and, as such, not have it translate into weakness by the public through the media.
The 2014 provincial Leader’s debate appeared to show in some surreal way that all three leaders were either unprepared or apathetic about having the debate at all.
In fact, debates really only count for 10% of a swing in public opinion and are really only a moment in time. But if a Leader carries her or himself off well, the bounce effect could provide momentum going in to the final stretch of the campaign.
That seemed to be the case for Tim Hudak. Pundits, observers and media agreed that he had a good debate. Resonance.
At the same time, it appeared to breathe new life in to a fledgling NDP campaign.
The Final Push
The post debate push to the finish (election day) is always the most exciting in a campaign. Media buys and ads are substantial, the messaging gets more aggressive and events for the Leaders tend to take on more of a rally theme rather than substance.
Pundits will try and parce the results of 2014 with thousands of pages of commentary. How could it happen that the Liberals achieved a majority when all indications suggested that there would/could be a minority either way? Moreover, how could the Liberals, who up to this point, were mired in scandal and the focus of actual probes and scrutiny by internal auditors, OPP and the media, manage to get a majority? What happened with the PC Party and the Hudak campaign?
Our research uncovered the following:
1) The trending in the last week or so of the campaign became more on focus on the future than on creating a narrative on cost cuts and job losses.
2) Resonance in media and therefore in the public accrued to the campaign and the Leader where talk about the aspirations of and for Ontarians rather than a narrative on anger and austerity was evident.
It was fascinating!
As context there is one immutable fact about being a Leader of a political party – he or she does not have the luxury of despair. One only has to consider the Clinton election(s) in 1992 and 1996 “I come from a place called Hope…” It resonated so much with Americans that he is considered one of the best orators in that country’s history.
In the provincial election of 2014, Ontarians apparently wanted hope, they endured a crappy winter and were seemingly ready for the spoils of good weather and during an election, and they wanted to be ready for positive things to happen in Ontario.
That was the tonic that was delivered by Kathleen Wynne. She is the Leader of a Party that may have been involved in dumb decisions that cost taxpayers billions. The Liberal Party may have been the Party that caused the ORNGE scandal – but as she proved to the media, she is not Dalton McGuinty, her Premier’s Office staff and advisors were not Dalton McGuinty’s staff and advisors and she appeared effective in delivering message and there was resonance.
Compare that to shades of darkness that appeared to emanate from both PC and NDP Leaders’ campaigns, we saw trends that there may in fact be a break-through in voting results favouring the Liberal Party in the last days of the campaign.
Apparently it bore out that way and voters across Ontario up to the last day made up their minds by how the media reported on the messages coming from the Leaders’ tours up to Election Day. The trending matched the resonance and matched the intention of the voters at the end of the day.
We all heard the speeches by the Party Leaders after the election. We all endured the spin and political pundits on TV and radio on election night.
So what happens next?
The Liberal Party has a majority government. Because we have fixed election dates in Ontario now, we won’t be enduring an election in Ontario until 2018.
The Premier, Kathleen Wynne has indicated that she will ask the Lieutenant Governor to recall the Legislature and that date has now been set for July 2 and 3.
In the intervening days, she will swear in a new Cabinet and begin the process of getting ready for a new session in the Legislature. She will re-introduce AND PASS the Budget that her government released only a month ago and then they will take the rest of the summer off to rest.
Look for the following:
On energy, look for continuity, Chiarelli will likely be re-appointed to the role and the Wynne government will continue on its path as outlined in its Long Term Energy Plan. They will look at new projects that have merit for the long-term energy needs of the province including Green Energy projects, nuclear and regional projects.
On Health look for Deb Matthews to stay on and she and the Liberal Government will continue on a path of integration focusing on patient access and outcomes and increased scopes of practices for allied health professionals. Look for processes and opportunities in the establishment of lower cost treatments outside of hospitals.
On International Trade, look for Eric Hoskins to be re-appointed, some of the work we have helped him create on health projects in the Middle East and India may come to fruition and look for a focus on infrastructure from Ontario based companies in those places.
On Gaming, look for the government to hold fast on its plans for Modernization. Look for over-sight to become more stringent at the OLG and a focus on bigger revenue opportunities. Look for the RFP processes in Lottery and land based gaming to proceed at and with greater speed in the latter part of the summer. Look for a new CEO to be appointed by Fall 2014.
On the Ring of Fire, look for the government of Ontario to move expeditiously on development in the area – including infrastructure in the guise of power and processing facilities.
On Transportation – look for Glen Murray to be re-appointed and to move quickly on the government’s commitment on spending to increase municipal transit in areas like the GTHA. Look for a greater push on reducing gridlock in Toronto and easing frustration among commuters.
Although it’s not panacea, look for the Premier to begin a spate of international visits and trade missions and look for greater activity to begin across provincial First Ministers beginning with Quebec.
Look for a bit of honeymoon for the Premier herself – she has made political history in Ontario as the first woman and first openly gay Premier in Canada’s largest province. The door is open!
In the coming weeks and months, K&A will continue to be fully integrated into the political landscape in Ontario, and available to provide detailed intelligence and advocacy on a range of files mentioned in this brief and beyond.