Musings —11.10.2015 01:04 AM—
Why did Justin Trudeau win?
Well, because the other two guys lost, obviously. The New Democrats lost nearly one million of the votes they received in 2011 — a drop of about 28 percentage points. That’s a big, big loss, and Justin Trudeau was the principal beneficiary.
And the Conservatives? Well, they lost, true. But the party of Stephen Harper lost only 54,268 of the votes they won in 2011 — a drop of less than one percentage point. However much Canadians were tired of the Tories and however much they professed to detest the departed Conservative leader — Stephen Harper held onto his core vote, almost exactly one-third of the electorate.
Regime fatigue, serial scandals, a narrative gone missing: all the things that typically beset an incumbent government hurt the Harper Conservatives, without a doubt. But, for the most part, the Conservatives lost because they couldn’t grow their base. Not because — as with the New Democrats — their base had shifted to the Liberals.
So how did Justin Trudeau’s Liberals pull it off? Three reasons, all of which relate to the three pillars of the Liberal Party of Canada, going back more than a century: women, new Canadians, young Canadians. To win, Grits always need the support of those three constituencies.
And, in 2015, Justin Trudeau brought them home.
Female Canadian Voters: Before, during and after the election, Trudeau has maintained a laser-like focus on recapturing and maintaining the support of women.
Long before the campaign was underway, Trudeau said this about a woman’s right to choose: “Canadians of all views are welcome within the Liberal Party of Canada. But under my leadership, incoming Liberal MPs will always vote in favour of a woman’s fundamental rights. When it comes to actively supporting women’s rights, our party must speak with one voice.”
That position was controversial within the party. It led to no shortage of debate, and it resulted in some aspiring candidates being barred from running.
But Trudeau’s instincts were right. Canadian women took note, and they approved. While the CPC generally always maintains its hold on male voters, the LPC never truly lost female voters: even following the party’s worst-ever finish in 2011, women continued to prefer the Liberal Party.
Following the 2015 campaign, too, Trudeau hasn’t wavered: he made good on his campaign promise, and crafted a Cabinet that was one-half female. That was a truly historic achievement, and one that attracted the attention of the world. When asked by a (female) reporter about his insistence on Cabinet gender parity, Trudeau sounded like his trail-blazing father: “Because it’s 2015.”
Liberals need to be vigilant, however. A shadow was cast over the early “sunny days” of the new government, when iPolitics revealed one-third of the women named to Trudeau’s Cabinet are mere ministers of state — and that they could end up earning substantially less than their male counterparts, for doing the same sort of job. Without the support of a majority of Canadian women, the Liberal Party of Canada cannot win. The ministerial income gap needs to be fixed (and, given Trudeau’s record — and the ascension of Rona Ambrose to the Tory interim leader post — it was).
New Canadian Voters: For a decade, Jason Kenney and Stephen Harper devoted themselves to one demographic crusade above all others: breaking the Liberal Party’s grip on so-called minority communities (so-called because, in many urban centres, “minorities” are now “majorities”). So obsessed was Kenney with this effort — so faithful was he in attending every ethnic community banquet and celebration — that he was famously dubbed “Minister of Curry in a Hurry.”
A few years ago, I gave a presentation to Marketing Magazine about the Conservatives’ much-trumpeted Constituent Information Management System (CIMS). Since at least 2005, the Conservatives had been using their CIMS database for targeted appeals, donations, and getting-out-the vote. Unlike their opponents, they weren’t simply relying on focus groups and polling — Conservatives were actively recruiting in minority communities with phone calls, direct mail, and at the doorstep. Their twin strategic objectives were always the same: increase the Conservative Party’s ability to deliver targeted messages more effectively in-campaign and figure out where supporters (and potential) supporters could be found.
Kenney and Harper boosted family reunifications, and they increased immigration to the highest levels they’d been since the 1950s. Using narrowcasting, they blanketed ethnic media with the word about their immigration-friendly policies: pro-Israel rhetoric for the Jewish vote; immigration reform for the Filipino community; relaxed visa restrictions for Poles and Croats; Korean free trade talks; Chinese head tax apologies; and on and on. And, over and over, Conservatives made frequent visits to countries of origin, and—as noted— always showed up at cultural and community events organized by new Canadians.
It worked, big time. The Conservatives attracted hundreds of thousands of new Canadians with conservative social and economic policies, but always took care not to alienate their core “old stock” vote base.
So what happened in 2015? How did the Conservatives lose the new Canadian demographic to Justin Trudeau?
With the ugliness of the anti-niqab rhetoric, that’s how. With the insane “barbaric cultural practices” hotline. With a campaign — and a campaign manager, in the form of Jenni Byrne — that believed a Nixonian Southern Strategy could work in 2015.
But it couldn’t and it didn’t. Euphemistic ethnic communities are not monolithic. Like all other voters, they move around. They looked at the divisive, dislikable Conservative campaign messaging, and they were repelled by it.
In droves, new Canadians — the “ethnics” Kenney and Harper had so assiduously courted — voted Liberal. And, with a Cabinet that is the most ethnically-diverse in Canadian history, Justin Trudeau clearly intends to hold onto them.
Oh, and former Minister of Curry in a Hurry? You should worry.
Young Canadian Voters: Young people don’t vote. They just don’t. But in 2015, Justin Trudeau — like Barack Obama in 2008—figured out how to change that.
As most campaigners know, young people represent the largest block of unclaimed voters in the United States, Canada, and in most modern democratic states. Generally, out of all of the young people entitled to vote, as few as one in five regularly do so. In the United States, people from ages 18 to 30 represent 25 per cent of the total American voting population, but according to Yale University’s department of political science, few of them vote anymore, if at all.
In Canada, the story isn’t the same, it’s worse: in the 2000 federal general election, within the younger 18-to 24-year-old group, only a depressing 22 per cent even bothered to cast a ballot. And had more of them voted in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 general elections, conservative political parties would not have been as successful as they were.
It’s a vicious cycle: political candidates routinely ignore young people because of their poor voter turnout, while young people cite the establishment’s political indifference as one of the principal reasons why they don’t vote.
As they studied the problem — a problem that, everyone should agree, has the potential to raze democracy itself — the experts at Yale discovered a number of things about young people and how they regard politics. For example, younger potential voters are much more interested in a candidate’s position on the issues, and much less interested in his or her partisan affiliation.
They like candidates who have been involved in issues at a community level, in a hands-on way, as Obama and Trudeau had been. Young people care very little about a politician’s appearance or style or manner, and are instead preoccupied with his or her record and experience and effectiveness. They are focused on authenticity, in particular.
Young voters want a candidate’s attention and respect, because they feel (rightly) that they have been left out of the political process. They feel the system does not take them seriously, or their issues, and they know when they are being patronized.
They like candidates who are authentic; who listen; who show some kind of commitment. The Yale studies have found that when a candidate actually spends time with young people, face-to-face; when he or she is honestly and truly more preoccupied by community activism than politics; when a campaign reminds a young person about the importance of voting, and helps them to do so—then youth turnout can be boosted dramatically.
When you cast your mind back over the just-finished campaign, you know that only one leader did all of those things: Justin Trudeau. Trudeau devoted more time to youthful-looking rallies, and face-to-face encounters with young people, than any prime ministerial candidate who went before him. He showed disdain for partisan labels, and he aggressively promoted the critical importance of democratic participation.
It paid off. Turnout went up, and young people turned out. Overwhelmingly, they voted Liberal. As Obama had done, Trudeau persuaded young voters to rally behind the Liberal option.
Women. New Canadians. Youth. Those aren’t just demographic categories — they’re the very foundation of the Liberal Party of Canada. By bringing them back, Justin Trudeau won in 2015.
By holding onto them, he will win again in 2019.