The idea that political parties are simply brand names to be promoted and sold is now almost a cliche. Politics is not about ideas and platforms so much as about successful marketing and establishing name brands with accompanying consumer recognition and loyalty. In an earlier period this would probably be considered a degradation of the democratic process. However the democratic process is basically one in which those with money and interest in the system try to sell their brand and garner the reward of political power. The power brokers hedge their positions by contributing to major brand names. What the people buy are illusions and they pay for them with their votes which then distribute political power on the basis of the market strength of the brands. It is therefore important to develop a solid recognisable brand. Of course there are claims (policy promises) made by the different brands so there is still an element of policy and discussion of policy claims but all within the overall context of marketing.
Saturday » October 18 » 2008
Liberal brand losing lustre, analysis reveals
Canwest News Service
Saturday, October 18, 2008
In the final few days before Tuesday's election, Conservatives remained nervous about the power of what they called the Liberal brand and how voter attachment to that brand would prevent the Tories from making any key breakthroughs.
They needn't have worried. The vaunted Liberal brand is in the worst shape it's been in in more than a hundred years.
"They've become a more exclusive party," said Darrell Bricker, chief executive of polling firm Ipsos Reid. "The Liberal party used to have what we'd call the widest vote pool, which is people willing to vote for them at least as a second choice. That's starting to narrow."
A look inside Tuesday's numbers, provided exclusively to Canwest News Service by PunditsGuide.ca, shows a Liberal brand in deep trouble, new opportunities for Conservatives and a trend that ought to encourage NDP supporters.
PunditsGuide.ca took a look at the number of seats each party won and added in the number of races in which that party came second. Looking at this "seats-plus-seconds" statistic can provide some insight about a party's staying power and its ability to compete.
The Liberal seats-plus-seconds has now declined precipitously over the last four elections, and is an indicator of the weakening of the overall brand.
In 1997, when Jean Chretien was winning his second majority, Liberals won 155 seats and finished second in 106 races, for a total seats-plus-seconds of 261. The Liberal seats-plus-seconds stayed strong through the elections of 2000 and 2004, at 279 and 280 respectively.
But in 2006, when Paul Martin's Liberals lost, the seats-plus-seconds total plunged to 219. Last week, it stood at just 200.
That low seats-plus-seconds total came with a historically low popular vote for the Liberals.
If Stephane Dion is replaced, he will be the first Liberal leader since Edward Blake to have failed to become prime minister -- Blake lost twice to Sir John A. Macdonald before giving way to Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1887. (John Turner inherited the prime minister's chair from Pierre Trudeau.) Dion will also go down in history for taking his party to their all-time lowest level of popular support in a general election.
With just 26.2 per cent of votes cast going to a Liberal candidate on Tuesday, Dion did worse than Turner, who got 28 per cent of the vote in 1984. As a group, Liberals have only done worse once before, in 1867, when just 22.67 per cent of voters in the new Dominion of Canada cast a ballot for a Liberal candidate. (The Liberals officially had no leader in that election -- although George Brown would likely have become prime minister had the Grits won -- and would not name their first leader until 1873.)
"Is the Liberal party on the outs? This election would suggest they were," said Barry Kay, an associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. "However, I do really think this election was about Dion. There's lots of nice things to be said about Stephane Dion and I've said them . . . but he was just a manifestly unfit person to be leader of the Liberal party."
In Kay's view, there is some strength and value in the Liberal brand that the next leader can build upon. "But what is the Liberal brand in this modern-day political system? It's really hard to say," said Bricker, "and the attributes that are there are not really that strong."
On the other side of the coin, the Liberal plunge in seats-plus-seconds has not been mirrored by a Conservative rise of equal magnitude. In fact, the Conservatives won or finished second in just 238 seats, a slight decrease from 2006 when their seats-plus-seconds total was 241. Nonetheless, both those results are a marked improvement from 2004 when the newly minted Conservative party managed to finish first or second in just 189 ridings.
Indeed, the Conservatives, by their own design, have been synonymous with their leader, Stephen Harper, in the last three elections. He is the only leader the new party has known and, for now, he's the franchise. When he leaves, there may not be much of a brand for his successor.
The New Democrats, on the other hand, may be most heartened by the trend in their seats-plus-seconds total as they try to muster enough votes and seats to perhaps one day form an Official Opposition.
SEATS PLUS SECONDS
Looking at the number of ridings in which a party finished first or second can provide some insights into a party's relative health and competitiveness. Here's how the three biggest parties have fared in the last three elections:
Election Seats 2nd place Seats+ seconds
2008 143 95 238
2006 124 117 241
2004 99 90 189
2008 76 124 200
2006 103 116 219
2004 135 145 280
2008 37 67 104
2006 29 53 82
2004 19 51 70
© The Vancouver Sun 2008
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CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.