A Few Thoughts on What Happened

Now I’ve had a bit of time to digest what happened last night, but before I get to reading other people’s post-mortems on the campaign I want to offer a few of my own thoughts.ConservativesThe Conservatives ran the perfect front-runner bubble campaign. They had the exact same message day in and day out which lead it self to voters knowing exactly what the message was. Having only 5 questions a day also allowed a lot of the issues that cropped up during the campaign to brief stories that didn’t really stick. This was aided by the fact that the media for quite a while focused on the lack of questions they were able to ask instead of issue-based questions. If the campaign had ended up focusing on a specific issue or policy it might have gone a lot differently, but with the lack of a defining issue the Conservatives were able to coast to victory on essentially the same message for the entire campaign.NDPThere is no question that the fact that the NDP surge became the story of the better part of the last two weeks of their campaign helped their numbers. The reason why those numbers started rising in the first place is a little less clear. The surge in Quebec started after the debates, but also after the weekend of the PQ convention where both Duceppe and Marois spoke about working towards another sovereignty referendum. Between Layton’s strong debate performance, his promise to re-open the constitution, and the seeming lack of desire on the part of most Quebecers for another referendum the NDP suddenly started becoming a viable option for many in Quebec.But above and beyond the Quebec surge, I think the NDP also resonated with people because they were the only party with a positive message. The Liberals often spoke about what was bad about Harper without saying what they would do differently. While Layton was also critical of Harper, he constantly sounded upbeat about what he would do instead. I think the end result was that a lot of voters who would never consider voting Conservative decided to choose the hopeful message.BlocI think I find the complete collapse of the Bloc the most shocking thing out of this entire election. Six weeks ago Duceppe was the most popular politician in Quebec, and there was a lot of talk of him replacing Marois because polls suggested the PQ would do better under him than her. But this campaign the Bloc really ended up lacking a defining issue. In ’04 and ’06 they had sponsorship and in ’08 they had the arts cuts and Duceppe was able to galvanise the electorate around those issues. However, without a defining issue the Bloc floundered.Interestingly, towards the end of the campaign when they called on separatist voters in desperation that didn’t really seem to help them much. In past provincial elections the PQ has rarely slipped much bellow 30%, but last night the Bloc was reduced to 23% of the Quebec vote. If that’s the base for separatists in Quebec the PQ has got to be worried, but the rest of Canada should be cheering. Given the seeming volatility in the Quebec electorate it will be interesting to see if after they are done with their NDP experiment if they go back to the Bloc under a new leader, or if voters will stay with federalist parties. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the second one.As a bit of a personal aside, from the time I started following elections even in the vaguest of ways as a child Duceppe has always been Bloc leader. So I’m having trouble imagining federal politics without him, and I think I might actually end up missing him a bit, or at least his quick one-liners.GreensI’m pleased to see Elizabeth May win her seat, when I interviewed her a couple years ago she stuck me as the kind of person we need in parliament, much like we could have used her in the leaders debates. However, her victory also causes me some worry given that it could lead to more of the vote splitting that benefits the Conservatives that we saw last night.LiberalsFrom the get-go the Liberal message was confused. We didn’t know where we stood on the issue of a collation despite knowing for over two years that it was going to be an issue. It set us off to a bad start and allowed the issue of contempt of parliament to be completely forgotten. And bad communications didn’t stop there. There were a plethora of issues that cropped up during the campaign that we could have used to create a narrative about why we needed to be the government instead of the Conservatives but we never developed that narrative. While we jumped on some of the issues, many of those issues were talked about for less than a day and we never coherently linked them together.We also never seemed to create a coherent message of what we stood for. Voters knew we wanted to defeat Harper, even if they didn’t understand why we wanted to defeat him, but they didn’t know what we would do differently.I won’t get into the issue of leadership in this post other than to say the attack ads were effective, but they were far from the only reason that Ignatieff didn’t resonate with the public. However, while Ignatieff resigned this morning it’s important that the party realise that our problems go way, way beyond this issue of leadership. But that will be another long post for another day.