Monday, May 09, 2011

The Right Wing media: What the Liberals need to do

Political parties conduct polling to find out what issues favour them and what do not, develop their talking points accordingly, focus group these talking points and then repeat these tried and tested talking points every chance they get. Whether, such talking points make much sense does not matter a lick. What matters is soccer moms and Nascar dads or what have you like them.

However, such an approach has two main shortcomings, one minor, one major. The minor shortcoming is this. Just because a talking point tests well does not mean that people will never see behind the facade. Some talking points are like fruit. They spoil. Others are like Twinkies and stay fresh forever. It is hard to guess what kind of expiration date a particular talking point will have coming out of the gate. It could go rotten rather quickly. Moreover, the growing prominence of social media is surly going to mean that such talking points have shorter expiration dates in the future. All that being said, all a political party needs to do overcome this problem is to remain vigilant, restock the shelves when needed and throw the rotten talking points in the garbage.

The second shortcoming is not so easily overcome. Specifically, such an approach presupposes that these talking points will reach the public unfiltered and that is just not realistic. Trying to use the media as a vehicle for getting your message out is like trying to pass a message to someone across a large room by having a series of people whisper in the ear of the person next to them. What message is eventually received is seldom the same as the message given. Some people will hear about such talking points though an unsystematic columnist or pundit, others will discover it buried in a lengthily article and so on and so on. None of these scenarios has been focused grouped for. People in focus groups are exposed to the talking point and only the talking point.

Liberals in particular would be fatally ill advised to ignore the latter problem. Being the third party they will be given less opportunity by the media to speak directly to Canadians and there is now an overwhelming body of evidence that 1) the bulk pundits are conservative and 2) the vast majority of articles about the Liberals are negative. The former goes a long way in explaining why the Conservatives have garnered so many more endorsements than other major political parties. In 2006 22 newspapers endorsed the Conservatives and 1 paper endorsed the Liberals 1 endorsed the Green Party and 1 the Bloc. In 2008 20 papers endorsed the Conservatives 3 the Liberals 1 the Bloc and 1 the NDP. In 20011 28 papers endorsed the Conservatives 2 the NDP, 1 the Bloc. As for the later, the last 4 McGill media election studies are a great place to start. I do not care how well a particular talking point focused grouped if it is buried in a negative piece or hammered by a pundit it is probably not going to be worth much.

In order to combat such a short coming the Liberal party is going to have to assume the role of a liberal pundit class that simply does not exist in this country and that means the Liberal party will actually have develop some academically respectable arguments. Board based talking points will not do the trick. They are easy fodder for any well informed person. The party needs to challenge the legions of conservative columnists least various Conservative positions become received wisdom. Factual errors need to be pointed out, non sequiturs need to be mocked and detailed arguments provided. The party needs to be vicious. Ignatieff talked about wanting to the be the party that bases its decisions on sound reasoning and science. A good way of establishing such a reputation is take a conservative pundit out to the wood shed on occasion. When a conservative columnist retires the Liberals should share Trudeau's lament: "I'm sorry I won't have you to kick around any more." Special attention needs to be given to the following papers: The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, Winnipeg Free Press, Ottawa Citizen and the Montreal Gazette.

Of course for such a strategy to be effective the Liberals actually need take stand on issues. A lot of the success Conservatives have enjoyed stems from the fact that however, stupid their policies, they have been only ones willing to put forward consistent set of policies (e.g., senate reform). When pundits talk about policy more often than not it is Conservative policies they are dealing with. Outside of the policies announced in Chretien's last year in power and Dion's disastrously ill defined Green Shift, the Liberals have not given the media much to talk about. Indeed, since 2006 the Liberals have almost abandoned the field altogether; they do not put forward polices; they do not put forward arguments; they do not refute arguments. They might tut tut and promise to "compromise", but this only hurts them. The former makes them appear to be the effeminate wimps the Conservatives claim them to be and the later makes it appear that the various Conservative polices have some validity when in actuality they have none. At best, the Liberals will sometimes take a stand in defense of the status quo. The gun registry is a case in point. However, do not expect them to say much of anything when they do take a stand. They might note that the experts support them, but they will not repeat the expert's arguments least someone take offense to what the experts are saying and want to shoot the messenger.

1 comment:

Annie said...

What the Liberals need to do first is get rid of their upper echelons.