Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Slippage Theory

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Friday October 27, 2006 at 10:31 pm)

One of the biggest question marks in any multiple-round vote has to do with loyalty. Not the kind of loyalty that keeps people behind a candidate, either — that’s relatively rare. It’s the kind of loyalty that keeps people behind a former candidate when he or she decides to call it quits. Then, faced with the fact that their chosen one is no longer an option, they must decide whether to follow him no matter whose side he moves to or find their own way.

It’s an especially difficult question in leadership contests. Failed candidates try to maximize their strength by moving to potential winners. By carrying their supporters with them, they bolster their choice’s chances and their own. But if supporters aren’t loyal, the move means little in the end.

Which is why Bob Richardson is right and wrong about the prospects of coalitions among the lower-ranked campaigns in the Liberal leadership race. He’s right to point out that two early dropouts weren’t able to carry their supporters with them. He’s wrong when he suggests that this means that movement among camps at this point will be equally ineffective.

The difference is simple. Bevilacqua and Fry dropped out of the race prior to the delegate selection, meaning that their supporters had not yet been transmuted into that gold of conventions: delegates. So when they moved to other campaigns, their scant support was a meagre offering at best. What they had were a few organizers and some hundreds of members, worthless without the organizers to control them.

We’re no longer talking about the control of thousands of members across hundreds of ridings. We’re talking about the control of hundreds of delegates. Delegates aren’t merely members — they’re members who’ve committed to attending the convention to support a particular candidate. That already makes them different from a member at large; and believing that they’re as open-minded and prone to wander as regular members is a mistake.

Just as important, the number of organizers needed to control those delegates is significantly smaller than those needed to mobilize and control the thousands of members used to elect them. As a result, bleed of supporters isn’t as significant. And just as there is a difference between members-at-large and delegates, there’s a difference between organizers-at-large and convention organizers. The latter are chosen to work in the rarified air of a noisy convention floor.

Which means that the supporters who matter at this point won’t be as footloose as those who went before; and not just because they’re with campaigns that have real chances of making the grade. The idea that mergers will only shake delegates loose to be drawn, mothlike to the Ignatieff lamp was implausible before the candidate’s spate of overweening gaffes. At this point it’s wishful thinking. Some will go that way, no question. But that kind of shedding won’t be what puts any candidate over the edge in this contest.

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