UP CLOSE and per­sonal

Po­lit­i­cal par­ties use mar­ket­ing tech­niques to fig­ure out how we think... and vote

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Christo­pher Adams

THIS is an in­sight­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of how our na­tional po­lit­i­cal par­ties use mod­ern mar­ket­ing tech­niques to win votes. Ac­cord­ing to Toronto au­thor and jour­nal­ist Su­san Delacourt, we are now con­sumers rather than cit­i­zens in the eyes of our lead­ers, and we se­lect par­ties the same way we choose our favourite beer or tooth­paste. Delacourt traces the his­tory of Canada’s con­sumer-ori­ented cul­ture and the rise of di­rect mar­ket­ing tech­niques, which came to be used heav­ily in the 1970s. At the same time, party strate­gists dis­cov­ered a con­nec­tion be­tween what we buy and how we vote. For ex­am­ple, John Laschinger, the na­tional di­rec­tor of the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives dur­ing the 1970s, pur­chased mag­a­zine sub­scriber lists, and found that Play­boy read­ers were also PC vot­ers. Sub­scribers were soon re­ceiv­ing PC party lit­er­a­ture. By the early 1980s, and lead­ing up to Brian Mul­roney’s 1984 fed­eral elec­tion land­slide vic­tory, the PCs were work­ing with a di­rect-mail mar­ket­ing list of 80,000 names, which yielded $7 mil­lion in do­na­tions. This was $1 mil­lion more than they spent in the en­tire 1984 cam­paign. Sig­nif­i­cantly, po­lit­i­cal ob­servers were now talk­ing about the “Big Blue Ma­chine.” Changes also oc­curred in the mass me­dia. Prior to the 1990s, the CBC and CTV na­tional news had large main­stream au­di­ences, which be­came frag­mented with the ad­vent of the mul­tichan­nel universe, which has now been fol­lowed by the In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia. As vot­ers be­came in­creas­ingly harder to reach, po­lit­i­cal strate­gists had to be­come less re­liant on mass me­dia cam­paigns and de­velop new ways to reach vot­ers, in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ing so­phis­ti­cated databases to track in­di­vid­ual vot­ers. Now, when you speak at the door to a cam­paign worker, dis­play a lawn sign, re­spond to a party-spon­sored tele­phone call, send a let­ter to your mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, or sign a pe­ti­tion, odds are that the in­for­ma­tion is en­tered into a party’s data­base, and you will now be “graded” ac­cord­ing to your sup­port for a par­tic­u­lar party. Delacourt has been cov­er­ing pol­i­tics for the Toronto Star for 16 years. Prior to that she worked for the Na­tional Post, the Ottawa Cit­i­zen and the Globe and Mail. She has penned three ear­lier books on po­lit­i­cal topics: Jug­ger­naut: Paul Martin’s Cam­paign for Chré­tien’s Crown (2003); Shaugh­nessy, about the late MP Shaugh­nessy Co­hen (2000); and United We Fall: The Cri­sis of Democ­racy in Canada. In 2012, the Ottawa-based Hill Times put her on its list of the top 100 most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple in gov­ern­ment and pol­i­tics. In Shop­ping for Votes, Delacourt shows how all three of the na­tional par­ties are now us­ing highly so­phis­ti­cated data anal­y­sis and mar­ket­ing tech­niques. The ear­li­est adopters were the Con­ser­va­tives, with help from the U.S. Repub­li­can Party, which built what be­came known as the Con­stituent In­for­ma­tion Man­age­ment Sys­tem (CIMS). This data­base helps the party de­ter­mine which house­hold gets spe­cific promotional ma­te­ri­als, fundrais­ing ap­peals, phone calls and vis­its from the can­di­date. Delacourt is alarmed that in­for­ma­tion-gath­er­ing by some mem­bers of Par­lia­ment leads to a blur­ring be­tween party pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment. For ex­am­ple, it was al­leged that names on a pe­ti­tion re­gard­ing gay and les­bian rights were used with­out per­mis­sion in 2012 by fed­eral Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Ja­son Ken­ney’s of­fice for a po­lit­i­cal di­rect mar­ket­ing cam­paign to reach the same in­di­vid­u­als. While the ma­jor par­ties are bor­row­ing the same tech­niques used by Nike and Col­gate to reach out to their “con­sumers,” our laws and elec­toral reg­u­la­tions ex­empt politi­cians from proper over­sight. Un­like busi­nesses, par­ties are free to launch at­tack ads to sully a com­peti­tor’s rep­u­ta­tion, they are ex­empt from be­ing placed on “do not call” tele­mar­ket­ing lists, and they are al­lowed to build highly de­tailed databases on pri­vate cit­i­zens with­out their knowl­edge or con­sent. Delacourt asks: If busi­nesses are pro­hib­ited from such ac­tiv­i­ties, why should we al­low po­lit­i­cal par­ties to be­have this way? One has to worry about what all this in­ten­sive data-gath­er­ing is hav­ing on our demo­cratic sys­tem. Af­ter read­ing Shop­ping for Votes, one might fear sign­ing a pe­ti­tion on a con­tentious is­sue or putting up a sign for an op­po­si­tion party’s can­di­date. Af­ter all, whose hands will sen­si­tive po­lit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion get into? For ex­am­ple, how might the award­ing of a gov­ern­ment grant to a com­mu­nity group be af­fected if it is known how its board mem­bers voted in the last elec­tion? Delacourt points out the irony that the rul­ing Con­ser­va­tives have dis­man­tled the gun reg­istry and the long-form cen­sus ow­ing to pri­vacy rights, while, at the same time, the pri­vacy rights of Cana­di­ans are com­pro­mised each day by the data­gath­er­ing of our fed­eral par­ties. Shop­ping for Votes is an im­por­tant and well-writ­ten po­lit­i­cal study for those who fol­low Cana­dian pol­i­tics and the way our votes are now shaped.

It pro­vides fresh, yet dis­turb­ing, in­sights into ci­ti­zen­ship and po­lit­i­cal mar­ket­ing. Christo­pher Adams is a Winnipeg po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and au­thor who worked in the polling in­dus­try for 18 years. He is cur­rently the rec­tor of St. Paul’s Col­lege at the Univer­sity of

Manitoba.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY BEN KAHLER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Shop­ping for Votes How Politi­cians Choose Us and We Choose Them By Su­san Delacourt Dou­glas & McIn­tyre,

352 pages, $33

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