Just Starting to Pay Attention
political junkies love the nuances of election campaigns.
They hang on every word and debate the implications of dead
air time during a radio debate or of the effect of endorsements
or criticisms from groups that most
voters couldn't name.
the real world where the outcome of the election is determined,
most folks are just beginning to notice that there is an election
on May 12th. They might give it more attention than the hockey
series if advertisements run during the games. It
has been that way for as long as I can remember, and I have
over 35 years of experience in campaigns, including as a candidate
in four provincial campaigns and one federal.
election campaigns are complex. At the local level a good
campaign has a phone bank, enough volunteers to canvass every
poll, three or more pamphlets, fact sheets and a candidate
who tirelessly knocks on doors, talks to the local media and
attends all candidate meetings. Despite all that effort, many
voters will say that they are getting all the information
they require from the newspapers, radio and TV. That's where
the central campaigns attempt to generate "earned"
media through the tours of their leaders, the radio and TV
debates and most of all with their advertising dollars. The
main media campaigns from both major parties, in terms of
advertising expenditures, don't shift into high gear until
the last two weeks of the campaign.
by some pundits that one side or the other is winning or losing
the initial campaign shouldn't be taken seriously as most
voters haven't paid attention to what they are talking or
writing about. Unless a campaign makes a fatal error, and
none have, it is fair to say that the horses have just left
the starting gate and the grandstand will watch as they enter
can get an idea of what the rest of the campaign will look
like by examining the TV ads both parties are running. They
are easy to review because the campaigns make them available
on their websites. As of April 25th, eight
Liberal ads feature Gordon Campbell talking about a variety
of topics: regional hospitals, future generations, education,
crime, coming out of the recession and confidence. The ads
are not structured so as to deliver a memorable message on
any of the particular topics, but a common theme between the
ads is Campbell's delivery and the tag end, the Liberal election
slogan, "Keep BC Strong". Both the theme and the
role of Campbell in the ads relates directly to what pollster
Angus Reid reported are the relative strengths of the Liberals.
of April 25h, there were six
NDP ads on its website featuring, through a variety of
techniques, the weaknesses of the Liberals. For example, the
"eight years is enough" ad talks about a growing
crisis in health and the broken promise of beds for seniors.
Another ad delivers the message: "The Campbell Liberals:
they're even bad for your wallet." It offers examples
of freezing the minimum wage and raising fees and Hydro rates.
Five of the six NDP ads focus on Campbell, almost as much
as the Liberal's ads, but with critical messages regarding
the record of his government. The NDP ad on the BC Rail corruption
case is featured on the front page of the party's website.
It concludes with the campaign theme: "On May 12th, take
back your BC."
campaigns will roll out new ads over the last two weeks of
the campaign. In the absence of a knockout punch in the May
3rd leader's debate, or a more significant error than John
van Dongen losing his driver's license due to numerous
speeding tickets, the ad wars will play a major role in the
balance of the campaign.
campaign has both positive and negative ads. As much as people
complain about negative ads, parties use them because they
work. Since the Liberals ads have been soft until this point
in the campaign, letting their allies run the attack ads,
watch for negative ads to emerge from the Liberals in the
final two weeks of the campaign. The NDP can be expected to
focus on messages it believes are most likely to shift undecided
and soft voters. The frozen minimum wage, care for seniors
and privatization of BC's rivers and other resources are likely
to be themes that continue in the NDP ads. Many pundits are
wondering whether the NDP has a surprise in reserve that will
be pulled out of the hat in the final days of the campaign.
polling results from both the Mustel
Group and Ipsos
Reid, which show a double digit lead for the Liberals,
the finish is likely to be close, as suggested by Angus
Reid's poll a month ago. It may come down to which side
wins the advertising battle with BC voters. Both sides have
a long way to go before seasoned pundits conclude that either
party controls the TV airwaves.