Friday, April 13, 2012

First impressions and lasting involvement

Others have already commented on the NDP's first set of ads with Thomas Mulcair as party leader. But I'll take a few minutes to highlight both the job the ads seem perfectly suited to do - and the more important work only hinted at in Mulcair's first set of leadership messages.

Here are the ads:

As Bruce Anderson notes in the At Issue segment linked to above, one of the obvious purposes of the ads is to lock in the initial positive impression of Mulcair that naturally follows a leadership victory. And the ads are highly effective on that front - creating positive impressions about Mulcair while leaving plenty of different paths for future definition.

But there's a second factor the NDP needs to focus on now that members have elected a new leader.

Contrary to the impression might might be left by Anderson and Andrew Coyne, the missing piece of the NDP's puzzle isn't a broad constituency willing to consider the party as a potential government. Indeed, on the indicators which actually signal whether voters have an aversion to a particular party - such as a lack of second-choice support or perception of extremism - it's the Cons who stand out as turning off a substantial chunk of the Canadian electorate.

In order to win over soft supporters, though, a party needs enough resources from its stalwart supporters to move public opinion when it counts most. That's been the Cons' strong suit for ages, as multi-million dollar ad campaigns funded largely by o perpetually-outraged base have been crucial to their destruction of the Libs' recent leaders. And it's where the NDP still has a ways to go: indeed, at last notice the NDP still ranked behind the Libs in fund-raising even in the wake of the shift in party standings.

Now, part of the answer may be to professionalize the NDP's image to encourage donations from backers looking to get on the right bandwagon. But the other factor in getting the NDP onto at least a manageable long-term financial footing - and one that I've tried to highlight in the latter stages of the leadership race - is the need for a consistently strong activist constituency which can be motivated to donate and volunteer based on NDP issues and values even when the political winds aren't in the party's favour.

On the plus side, the new ads at least hint that there's more at play than merely encouraging passive impressions of Mulcair, as the closing exhortations of "now let's get the job done" and "ensemble batissons l'avenir" both recognize the need for viewers to get involved.

But while those warm and fuzzy messages may encourage Canadians to see involvement as something positive, they probably fall short of actually spurring people to action. And as important as it is to build positive impressions, Mulcair's honeymoon period should also be treated as a crucial opportunity to assemble the movement needed to support an NDP government in winning and exercising power.

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