Change vs. More of the Same?

Welcome back!
We are in the middle of crazy travel criss-crossing North America. Since my last post, Laura and I have been doing seminars in Edmonton, Alberta, Kelowna B.C., Washington DC, Los Angeles and Ottawa. Next week, Laura is in Nashville while I'm in New York and there are several stops in between. As a result, I have been somewhat remiss in my postings. However, it is the ultimate season for politicos and sports nuts everywhere, isn't it? The World Series is under way, hockey is in full swing and we're deep into football. It's sensory overload for people like me.
Canadians Choose Stability Over Change  
In Provincial Elections in Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland & Labrador and Prince Edward Island, the incumbent governments were re-elected. Although mostly by reduced margins and - in Ontario's case - the McGuinty Liberal government was reduced to a minority (by one vote...a 'major minority' as Premier McGuinty called it.) So what was the deal with those results? What happened to all the anger and the desire for change that many had anticipated?
In spite of pockets of anger - such as the 'Occupy' movement - Canadians could have been persuaded to change, if they felt that there was a strong alternative on offer that would benefit themselves, their families and their communities. For the most part, that didn't happen. Even though the Progressive Conservative parties and their leaders in Ontario, Manitoba and P.E.I. put up a spirited fight, they could not overcome one of the most powerful forces in politics - the desire to maintain a steady course in choppy economic waters.
There is no question that the voters in those elections are nervous - particularly as the Europeans grapple with their bail-outs; and the Americans' struggle with the debt, deficit, foreclosures and unemployment. Ultimately a voter will make one of three decisions when anxious about their futures: 1. Stay home. The majority of voters chose not to trudge to the polls and cast their votes. [By the way, I would love it if reporters were to ask the 'Occupy' protesters if they bothered to vote in the last election.]
2. Go with 'change'. That change must be compelling, clear. The Party and Leader must drive a message that you really care about. In these elections, it wasn't about taxes, it was about jobs and economic growth. There were big voter shifts in most of the elections, but not enough to topple the incumbent governments. Attack campaigns work, but they also require a solid alternative view that resonates with the values of your voter universe.
3. Stay with the Party and Leader who represents a 'steady hand at the tiller'. That was what the Conservatives under Prime Minister Harper did in the May federal election as they moved from minority to majority government, and it was what the winning Provincial Premiers did in their wins.  It is using incumbency for its maximum benefit - namely, to portray stability and a solid plan for the future. It's often labeled 'better the devil you know than the devil you don't' - and there is some truth to it However, the fact is that campaigns matter and the winning campaigns were able to use the 'air war' [ads and earned media] with a strong 'ground war' - with troops on the ground, door-to-door, telephone canvas etc.] In a solid campaign it all comes together.
What's at Stake in the Las Vegas Republican Debate?
The Las Vegas edition of the traveling Republican debate circus provides an important opportunity to test the ability of Herman Cain to gain continued momentum or fall back like many before him. Can anyone else move up the chain to stunt the seeming inevitability of a Mitt Romney nomination victory? As the Republican candidates fight for positioning, it's intriguing to watch the rising and falling fortunes of their individual  campaigns.
First Gov. Sarah Palin's slow flame-out as people saw more of her, they began to really question, and then conclude, that she was not Presidential material. Having just read The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin by Joe McGinniss  like it or love it, it paints a picture that is unsettling to say the least. Rep. Michelle Bachman appeared to inherit the Palin mantle, rose quickly and then faded as her 'sound bites' began to reveal a lack of depth.
Then it looked like Gov. Rick Perry was going to be the one to take out Gov. Mitt Romney. After several lackluster debate performances, and one or two embarrassing events and comments, his star faded too - leaving businessman Herman Cain in a neck-and-neck race with Romney. [Although it's intriguing that Gov. Perry doesn't seem to mention his success in reducing the numbers of people sent to prison for minor drug offences, even closing prisons and getting people into drug rehab programs. Perhaps he has calibrated that it won't ingratiate him with Tea Partiers, but he has to remember that he has to build on that base, not just cater to it.]
Does Cain really have a chance of knocking Romney out?
Based  on the evidence, no. While he has an appealingly open charm and a lot of credibility in the business world, he is making a lot of rookie mistakes - joking about immigration 'electrical fences that could kill illegal immigrants'. He has a bold slogan '9-9-9' but he has not laid the groundwork for it well enough and has not addressed the problems with it. His proposed 9% flat tax for individuals and companies, along with a 9% sales tax are highly controversial but he has done nothing to alleviate the greatest attack - that his plan is unfair to those who are most vulnerable. Although he could offer a minimum threshold for his income tax, and a sales tax refund for low income people, he has not addressed how to make it more fair. Cain has to realize that as he nears the top of the pile, everything he says will be under the spotlight and there is no room for jokes about serious issues.

While Romney can come across as too slick by half, nevertheless, he has been tested on the national stage for six years. That experience and long-term exposure is critically important to a serious candidate. His Mormon religion is still an issue, but he has reached the stage where anyone [or surrogate, as Rick Perry has learned] who attacks his Mormonism does more damage to his or her favored candidate - than good. Romney's greatest vulnerability is that many still wonder what his true values are, as he appears to have shifted them based on his actions as Massachusetts Governor compared to today - particularly on health care. Romney is clearly the man to beat for the nomination. He just needs a steady, solid performance tonight - in keeping with his 'steady' campaign manner. It's not going to create excitement;  nevertheless he's beginning to emerge as a steady and clear alternative to President Obama.

And remember, steadiness and stability can be highly attractive in unsettling economic times!

Technology Companies in Crisis...RIM Learns a Lesson
For Blackberry users such as me around the world, it was a frustrating week. RIM had to learn again what so many organizations have learned the hard way. Get out ahead of the crisis. Make sure your CEO [in RIM's case, two co-CEOs] is visible. RIM sent out their Chief Technology Officer and held back on their CEOs until a day later. I got caught in L.A. without my Blackberry operating for a day. Although it was an inconvenience, many consumers were more angered by the slow communications response than the triggering incident. Again, another lesson to be re-learned.
 The Perils of Communicating Health Risks
Health care is a risk issue. How you handle difficult or controversial issues in the health care field must be handled carefully. The goal is to raise awareness so that the public will take action to reduce further risk, while avoiding inflaming. Questions have arisen about the handling of a potential health risk through lack of appropriate infection control procedures by a doctor and a public health clinic. The announcement by Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health was seen by many to be inadequate as he withheld the name of the clinic and the nature of the procedure in his first news conference. That decision not to release that information while issuing the public warning raised criticism.  However, even though it was delayed by 48 hours, the proper information was released by the much-respected Dr. Levy and he ably defended himself before the media and City Council.  The lesson to 'get as much bad news out as possible - right away' would be helpful for all Medical Officers of Health facing similar challenges in the future. In this CTV National news item in which yours truly was interviewed, see for yourself how the issue came across [fast forward 4 minutes into the newscast].

Until next time, remember, what happens in Vegas....stays on YouTube!


The Psychological Voter 'Drivers'

Welcome back!
"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies." —Groucho Marx
Groucho probably had that about right, but - hey - that won't stop us from exploring one of my favorite sports, politics!
I can't believe it's been nearly three weeks since my last posting. The craziness of the fall season is well underway, and I've traveled from one end of one country (Canada) to the other end of the other (United States). In between seminars and consulting I've kept a close eye - with some media interviews - on politicians, debates, elections and scandals thrown in for good measure. Within the next week or so, there will be provincial and territorial elections in Canada and in the U.S., Republican candidate debates. And to make it really fun and games....it's World Series time!!!! So let's get started with this week's subject...the psychological 'drivers' of voters.
The Psychological Voter 'Drivers'
If every political campaign could understand the psychological state of their voters, they would hold the victory within their grasp. For if you understand your voter, you learn what motivates them and may ultimately get them to the polls to mark an 'X' next to your candidate's name [or 'yes' or 'no' on your ballot initiative].
Although I am not a psychologist - nor have I played one on television, but...... based on providing strategic communications advice, training for media, debates and campaign speeches for dozens of campaigns, I venture the following analysis:
Driver No. 1. Voters can be highly volatile in their opinions. Their opinions can change fairly rapidly based on specific arguments that make sense to them, if they resonate with their collective experiences. For example, whether a 10% tax middle class tax cut is a good thing or not, is a matter of opinion, on which reasonable people may disagree. It's what the cuts are associated with [the connotations] that matter: for those opposed to the cuts, the campaign might focus on the cuts to health care, education etc. while those in favor might focus on jobs and opportunities. What voters supported two or four years ago, don't assume that they are going to support it this year.
Driver No. 2. Connect with the slower-moving prevailing public attitudes - broader than any one issue, attitudes are more powerful than trading opinions. For example, tax cuts is only one of a basket of issues - "unfair tax hikes' and "lies", "waste" and "giveaways" etc. They can form a hardened powerful public opinion. In turn, that can generate a wave of anger and protest [witness the current Wall St. daily protests spreading elsewhere]. While slower to shift than opinions, prevailing attitudes do change and they can end up throwing leaders and governments out of power. Clearly this is what Ontario's PC Leader Tim Hudak and the NDP's Andrea Horwath are counting on as they race towards what appears to be a minority government situation. [By the way, I wonder what kind of ink Premier McGuinty's pledge to not form a coalition government was written with? Just asking.]
Driver No. 3. Connect with the core (very-slowly) changing values of 'voters'. Values - family, community, justice, protecting the environment, protecting borders etc. can be the most powerful motivators of all - when they are under attack. Like a mama bear, values can lie there unstirred and taken for granted. But when that bears cubs are threatened, don't be surprised if it lashes out angrily to protect its young. So one of the rules of politics is, don't press the 'values' button unless you are sure that your voters competing values are stronger and can be marshaled in your favor. Every election is ultimately a fight for a large piece of the voters' value set. Who gets a hold of that, is often the winner.
Driver No. 4. Connect with the leader/candidate. The voters don't have to love the candidate or Leader [but it definitely helps]. The key is respect. Stephen Harper counted on 'respect' from the voter in his last two elections, not necessarily 'love'. The love that millions of voters had for Barack Obama in 2008 needs to be translated into 'respect' if he hopes to be re-elected in 2012. If the candidate makes embarrassing comments, in the Twitter-verse world, he or she runs the danger of becomes a running joke. Some move quickly to apologize or explain or - even better - poke fun at themselves, such gaffes can be overcome, so long as they can relate to the candidate. As the 'fitness-challenged' Gov. Chris Christie [Rep. NJ] contemplates throwing his hat into the Republican Presidential race, it signals that the public no longer have an idea of the 'perfect' candidate in mind. Instead, they seem to want a candidate whom they could 'have a beer with'. They want someone to connect with. Not to worship, but someone who really gets them and speaks up and asks for them.
Driver No. 5. A powerful message, powerfully communicated. 'Change' is an over-used but powerful message. Alberta's Alison Redford, came from behind to win the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party this past weekend in the run-off election and is now the Premier-designate of Alberta. She represented change in the status quo. Hard to beat that! In Manitoba, after one of the nastiest campaigns on record, if the PC's Hugh McFadyen succeeds in taking down NDP Premier Greg Selinger it will demonstrate once again that 'change' trumps virtually everything else.

So, what does all this mean for this week's elections in PEI, Ontario and Manitoba? I won't predict as they are three very different campaigns, but it is clear that change is in the air.  The other five psychological 'drivers' will come into play in their own way and how strongly they do will tip the balance. It's important to remember that momentum and get-out-the-vote [GOTV] are critical to paying off on your voter analysis. So no matter who your party or candidate is, exercise your hard-won right and get out and vote! Or even better, volunteer for the candidate or Party you believe in. You are more important to democracy than you think. Pass it on!

Until next time.......