DNC by the numbers

I have a bit of an embarrassing confession to make. I subscribe to an unhealthy amount of polling information via email and RSS. Polling companies in Canada and the US send me daily information on a number of topics, whether it’s the horse-race of McCain-Obama, the demographic breakdowns of perceptions on the US economy, or Canadian attitudes towards arctic development (and those are just from today)

I’ve been watching the Democratic National Convention with some interest over the past couple of days. If you’ve been following my twitter feed, you might have seen some of my live reactions to speeches by Michelle Obama, Mike Schweitzer or Hillary Clinton. The data from day 2 has just hit my inbox and newsreader and the numbers provide a look at the success/failure of the stage-managed political super-rally in Denver, Colorado.

In a comparison of keynotes of Michelle Obama vs. Hillary Clinton (though Clinton’s wasn’t technically a keynote), Nielson polling data shows that the NY Senator beat Mrs. Obama with 26 million viewers vs. 22.3 million. Further, in ratings, African-Americans are watching the DNC in larger proportions than white viewers. Black viewers were 1.4 times as likely to be watching the DNC than the population as a whole. This year at the DNC, African-Americans make up a record of 24% of all delegates. US Census records from 2000 show a 12.9% African-American population in the US. Though the Democrats reserve delegate spots for racial minorities and women, the television ratings suggest unprecedented high political engagement and interest among African-American electors. Higher voter turnouts reflect healthy democracies and it is exciting to watch the American contest unfold this year.

Comparing the second days of the 2004 and 2008 DNC conventions, the 2008 convention had five times the television viewers. This is particularly important for Hillary Clinton as she’ll likely be running for President in 2012 if Obama fails to get enough votes in November.  She still remains quite popular among Democrats with an 80% approval rating.

McCain’s strategy is the wedge

As the Democrats assemble in Denver this week and kick off their National Convention today, the campaign of the presidential campaign of Republican John McCain is to capitalize on Barack Obama’s decision to tap senior senator Joe Biden as hiss running mate.

Biden’s selection as the bottom half of the Dem ticket this cycle for President is sure to anger some former supporters of former Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton.

McCain is releasing an ad titled “Debra” which features one such angered supporter, a former delegate for Ms. Clinton. The ad presumes that there is division among Democrats moving into the week-long party in Colorado.

The convention is to feature a speech by Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton titled “securing America’s Future” where the former President will speak about the economic records of his administration versus that of the current Commander in Chief. While it is unexpected that the former President will take an open shot at his wife’s former rival, Republicans will be looking for any hint of dissention to show that Obama is not ready to lead as support isn’t solid even among left-wing partisans.

Therefore, as McCain is expected to name his choice for VP just after the Democratic Convention to change the channel as GOP activists assemble in Minneapolis-St. Paul for their convention, look for McCain to name a conservative Republican such as Romney or Huckabee to emphasize unity in his own party.

Like Obama, McCain not only has a challenge capturing independents but he faces a battle in invigoriting his own base to get out the vote in November. Obama’s choice of Biden and the added foreign policy experience that the Dem ticket sorely needed will reassure independents but will sour part of his base, especially the working class and women that supported Clinton. McCain’s challenge lies in invigorating his base. He is already stronger among independents than Obama (being a centrist Republican vs. liberal Democrat Obama) but in this, he faces a challenge exciting the GOP base, much of which consists of evangelicals which turned out for Bush/Cheney in 2000 and 2004. Look for McCain to make a nod towards the base by selecting a conservative’s Republican such as Romney or Huckabee. McCain is messaging on Democrat division with Obama’s passing on Clinton, therefore the Republican ticket will likely show McCain emphasizing his party’s unity by looking towards the right rather than the centre.

Call the Parliament Hill window police

Spotted in Hedy Fry’s 5th floor office window at the Confederation Building on Parliament Hill:

I’m not sure how Fry qualifies as a veteran, but she’s got the sign and she’s showing her support for the presumptive Democratic nominee for President!

Flashback from the Hill Times:

Conservative MP Rob Anders was recently forced to remove a “pro-life” sign from his East Block office window on Parliament Hill after receiving a formal letter of complaint from a Liberal Senate political staffer and after the chief government whip told him to take it down.

The large blue and white “Defend Life” Knights of Columbus sign could clearly be seen for a few weeks before it was removed on July 2 and one day after abortion rights activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler was named to the Order of Canada among 75 for one of Canada’s highest honours.

Amélie Crosson, an assistant to Ottawa Liberal Sen. Jim Munson, sent a formal letter of complaint to Mr. Anders, all MPs, Senators, assistants, party leaders, whips, and party caucus services, on June 27 after she noticed the sign on June 23 while walking to work.

Ms. Crosson told The Hill Times that in her 10 years on the Hill, she could not remember ever seeing a sign in a window before and after she found out whose office it was, she sent a letter of complaint to all MPs.

“All of us who work here are passionate about politics and specific political issues, but if we all start to decorate the exterior of our windows,” she wrote, “in no time, our Parliament Buildings will look like a collection of university frat houses.”

UPDDATE: I’ve received an email from Team Fry. It has been reprinted with permission from it’s author Tim Campbell.

Campaign wildcards

GOP Presumptive nominee for President John McCain has caused quite a stir with his latest set of ads attacking his Democrat counterpart Barack Obama. In the first ad titled “Celeb” McCain compares Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and makes the point that while Barack Obama is incredibly popular but has little leadership experience at McCain’s level and that celebrity can’t sustain a commander in chief alone. The ad does well do underscore this point however it fails because it concedes another: Barack Obama is incredibly popular. By the technical definition of popular vote (a good measure of how elections are won — electoral colleges being another story), McCain concedes that Obama may not be ready to lead the country but that McCain isn’t ready to win the presidential election. The ad, by including Spears and Hilton to make a comparison to Obama was successful in getting a lot of intention for its at-first-glance superficial character and belittling tone.

In the second ad named “The One”, McCain’s campaign compares Obama to a messianic character that can do no wrong. The ad is mocking in tone and is good red meat for the base, perhaps the other front besides the swing vote that McCain needs to convince to give him a shot at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue.

The “Celeb” ad is rumoured to have spoiled a surprise appearance by Obama in Chicago at this past weekend’s Lollapalooza where insiders say he was ready to introduce rapper Kanye West on stage. The Obama campaign is said to have been spooked by the ad and didn’t want to fuel talk around the coming volley from McCain. Given this song by rapper Ludacris endorsing Obama over McCain (a song lighting up the American right-wing blogosphere), Obama likely made a good decision by removing himself as an element of a perfect storm of bad publicity. Obama, celebrity, Kanye and Luda. It would have fit well into McCain’s narrative (and all by chance).

The latest in this entertaining story is an entry by Paris Hilton, the famous-for-being-famous celebrity featured in McCain’s ad. First consider McCain’s ad

and now Paris Hilton’s response

In election campaigns, its impossible to predict the wildcards such as the Ludacris endorsement. Further it’s the nature of the race that Obama would have to respond carefully to McCain “Celeb” ad by allegedly canceling on Kanye. Equally as unpredictable is this response by Hilton, which is more tangential to the core, but more viral among those with a surface view of the presidential race so far. While insiders will dismiss this as fodder for Entertainment Tonight and Jay Leno, though that’s where the populace is watching. And for McCain it’s unfortunate that Obama is popular.

Stephane Dion channeling Barack Obama?

Take a look at the following ten-percenter that landed in mailboxes in Burlington ON (from a PEI MP printed on dead trees! Someone call Garth).

Is Stephane Dion trying to channel the success of Barack Obama’s campaign? Hope and change and change and hope.

Now, all Dion has to do is work on adapting Obama’s inspirational speaking style and then he’ll win a landslide majority and get back into power “as soon as possible”.

At least he’s hopeful.

Conservative Party looks to Karl Rove playbook

In Ottawa this week, Conservatives hoping to sharpen their political skills looked south, to the United States of America to replicate the success of the back-to-back electoral victories of George W. Bush and the Republican machine.

In caucus, Conservative MPs and senators were treated to a strategy session that was based on information written by “Bush’s Brain”, Karl Rove. Rove served in the Bush administration as deputy chief of staff to the President and is largely known as the architect of Republican victories during the past decade. “Bush has taken what we thought we knew about politics and turned it into a different game for a different generation” was heard from Wednesday’s caucus session.

Pollsters agree that Rove’s approach to mobilizing select groups of voters on highly motivating issues is the key to creating a permanent Conservative majority. Conservatives may be facing an election this fall and are increasingly known to be studying Rove’s strategies to achieve more seats when Canadians go to the polls.

The preceding would be on the front page of the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail if it were true. Since it is not, I’m thankful that I was able to find this analogous yet reality-based account buried on Susan Delacourt’s blog.

On naming and dealing with scandal

As some of the air has been taken out of the so-called “Cadscam”, I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look at which communications goals were achieved by how this “scandal” was named and then let’s investigate how other scandals get their names. Further, I want to take a look at how the Conservatives are dealing with these issues during their minority government.

It seems as though every scandal that emerges in the U.S. gets the -gate suffix after the famous burglary of the DNC headquarters at the hotel which came to provide inspiration for the name. Since Watergate, we’ve seen lexicographic laziness as subsequent scandals relied on the formula by which the subject of the scandal became the root of the scandal name followed by “gate”. Wikipedia has a list of scandals based on this modèle-de-mot.

In Canada, we famously have watched the progression of “Adscam” from start to finish. Andrew Coyne — then a columnist at the National Post and now a senior editor at Maclean’s — gave the moniker to the sponsorship scandal. The scandal coiner (sorry) originally cited that he wanted to avoid the familiar -gate standby and he came to rest on a derivation of Abscam, a decades-old American political scandal that netted the convictions of a number of elected officials. Adscam, however, still registers zero on political prosecutions.

NAFTA-gate is so unfortunately named because the scandal — although up in Canada, we desperately try to claim some outrage too — is rooted in U.S. politics. If the leak was anything beyond tangential, we may have had the right to name it NAFTAscam, or Obamaramascama, but we are only secondary characters in the drama at it now simmers south of our southern border. An enterprising tech entrepreneur should immediately go and register a number of possible iteration of -gate.com and -scam.ca to cash in on the mania. As the official opposition is awol in Canada, there’ll be a scandal every week as Dion and co. focus on character assassination rather than policy opposition. Bring on Harperscam, Senatescam, and Partisanscam! In the U.S., while it is surprising to see a scandal based upon policy rather than sex, we still may see -gates reminiscent of Lewinskygate as ex-lovers and past trysts are brought to the fore (we’ve already seen a McCain sex scandal resurface that was fresh 8 years ago during the 2000 campaign).

It is interesting to note that “Cadscam” originally emerged from the Ottawa press. With Adscam so recent, it’s not entirely surprising to see this name stick. However, it is a double-edged sword for those who would carelessly wield it to damage the Conservatives. The advantage of “Cadscam” for the Liberals is that it diminishes the branding of their own scandal by creating a “politicians are all the same” way of thinking among the general public. However, the very use of the name is a constant reminder of their own scandal which ultimately brought their 13-year reign to an end. Yet, on sum I would say that it is to the Liberals’ net advantage to use the “Cadscam” name for one of the main Conservative advantages has been that they have framed themselves as the team that was elected to ‘clean up Ottawa’ and they told the electorate that ‘a new era of accountability was upon us’.

If accountability represents one pillar of this Conservative administration, this scandal has Conservatives worried because it also strikes at the very base of the other pillar: leadership. As Dona Cadman has cleared Conservative leader Stephen Harper from involvement, we can understand that perception is everything in politics and as the Conservatives clean up this mess, we see that timing and credibility are the primary factors for damage control. Of course, another key element that we have seen is pushback. Harper’s pending lawsuit against Dion is evidence of this.

Some have questioned the Prime Minister’s lack of substantive enunciation on the topic and say that he should have come forward right away to clear the air and answer any questions. Since the allegations were based on old and second-hand information, what the Prime Minister’s strategy continues to be is one that doesn’t give the intense spotlight of his office to a scandal that he cannot begin to define in his own terms. In contrast, on “NAFTA-gate”, the Prime Minister has put the full resources of his government on determining the source of the leak which impaired Obama in the Ohio primary. Some say that the PM has changed the channel on “Cadscam”, and whether or not this was deliberate on the his part, this is indeed what has happened. NAFTA-gate, as far as a news story goes, has much more momentum, involves more players, and does not have any heavy legal consequences for the Prime Minister and his team. It’s an embarrassing scandal to be sure, however, it is not one that is likely to change voter intention in the next Canadian federal election. As Canadians, I think we’re just happy that we heard our names mentioned on American TV.

If we take a substantive look at both “scandals”, the so-called “Cadscam” smells bad, but in the end it hasn’t got any legs: the three people at the centre of the allegations all denied a deal (Cadman included) and anything else is completely speculative. Unless Dion has a smoking gun, the only factor that will continue to define the story is Harper’s libel suit against the oppo leader. The Liberals might continue their pressure in the House’s ethics committee, however, they should be mindful that there is a point to be made, backed up by an easily built narrative, that the Liberals are on a witch-hunt and that they have tried to throw anything at the wall to see what sticks. On “NAFTA-gate”, there are too many speculative details for this to continue beyond the continued policy-bereft warbling of Dion in the House.

If all else fails, the Conservatives should unveil what Dion would gladly term the “hidden agenda” and dare the opposition to debate on real policy rather than trumped-up scandal.

Getting out the vote in the US election

While is was inevitable for some time, Arizona senator John McCain only recently became the official nominee for the Republican Party. Most U.S. observers believe that Chicago junior senator Barack Obama will defeat Hillary Clinton in the Democrat primaries.

Now, the question: in a Obama vs. McCain contest, who is more likely to win? The easy answer for most is Obama. Since McCain has be the de facto nominee for quite some time, the U.S. media has focused primarily on the horserace that is Obama vs. Clinton. In short, the Democrats are getting high profile while McCain’s storyline is wrapped up in the interim. This translates to perceived momentum and this translates well with voters as who is perceived to win will often bring voters on side; people like to pick a winner.

However, Obama has a tough road ahead. He has largely been unvetted by the media and democrats (the internal contest) are reluctant to bring out the heavy ammunition against a potential nominee who may represent the Democrats’ only hope to retaking the White House. If the Dems leave Obama too damaged, he may not stand up well in the main event. However, his kid gloves treatment may in turn be part of his downfall. As we’

Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the Obama leak

It’s official, the Canadian government will be using every available resource to investigate the source of the Obama leak.

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister stated:

Well Mr. Speaker, I don’t think I could be plainer, we will take every step necessary to get to the bottom of this. The leak of this kind of information for whatever reason by whomever is completely unacceptable to the government of Canada. It is not useful, it is not in the interest of the government of Canada, and the way the leak was executed Mr. Speaker, was blatantly unfair to Senator Obama and his campaign. Mr. Speaker, we will make sure that every legal and every investigative technique necessary is undertaken to find out who exactly is behind this.

This was a necessary move by the Prime Minister in order to maintain strong diplomatic ties with whoever becomes president in January 2009. Canada cannot be seen to be interfering with the U.S. electoral process and this move indicates that the leadership of this government holds this firm view.