Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics


Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning (Thursday January 19, 2006 at 10:46 pm)

One of the most unusual features of this campaign was the timing of platform releases by the two leading parties. The Liberal platform wasn’t released until January 11th, and the Conservative platform even later — waiting for the 13th, ten days before the election.

One might expect an earlier release date. After all, shouldn’t the parties have an idea of where they’re going with policy well in advance of the election? Wouldn’t they be better off showing Canadians the goods from the get-go? Don’t they run the risk of missing the boat with voters interested in policies not yet announced?

As campaigns are increasingly run by strategic considerations, the function of a platform shifts from a de rigeur presentation of a party’s “position”. Everyone recognizes that delivery of the message is as important as the content of the message. Given that, there are a few important considerations in timing platform’s release:

  • The risk of other events detracting from the publicity associated with a platform release
  • The risk of delayed releases being botched by leaks, making the party look unprofessional
  • The need to generate publicity consistently throughout a campaign

Layout and publication take some time — text and its translation must be vetted thoroughly to ensure that the written material matches up with the campaign message. This election came about quickly enough that parties may not have had platforms ready for release at the outset. Still, if the campaigns had any strategy in them, it shouldn’t have taken long to release a platform. So why did the parties wait so long?

In the Conservative’s case, it was certainly intentional. The Tory plan began with a careful attempt to establish their identity through a controlled daily dose of policy announcements. Had their platform been released before their announcements, other parties could have disrupted their planned presentation or worse: levelled critiques before the Tories had had the chance to frame the issues. Their strategy worked so effectively that a number of early Liberal announcements (head-tax reduction, daycare funding extension) were responses to Tory releases. Control of the agenda can easily become control of the election, and the results have proven the Tory approach.

The Liberals have been busy reacting through much of the campaign. Most notably, the launch of their negative advertisements came after the holidays — few national events and announcements preceded the new year. Major events included the Prime Minister reading to schoolchildren, which failed to impress Liberal backbenchers. The Liberals had clearly calculated that voters would only begin paying attention after the holidays. While this might have been true, it’s clear that the Tory groundwork pre-Christmas had some effect, while voters are still wondering what “values” means when Paul Martin speaks of them. In the Liberals’ case, an early release could have provided a sense of the party’s position and offered the basis for further campaigning. The platform itself was vaguely enough framed to contain few things for the Conservatives or NDP to attack.

It’s not clear that platforms are particularly crucial to a campaign, especially since the specific presentation of policies has probably eclipsed their content in importance. The late release of platforms in this campaign may not, in itself, be an issue, but the one fact is a reflection of the two front-runners’ campaigns as a whole; and remarkably opposite in effect for each.

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