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.......

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