Thursday, September 18, 2008

Canadian Leaders Can't Sell Ice To...

...Well, you know...

A recent poll conducted by Ipsos Reid suggests that Canada's political leaders may not be selling themselves to Canadians quite as effectively as they had hoped.

Conservative party leader Stephen Harper's brand image of a sound economic leader, Liberal leader Stephane Dion's brand image of an economically-sound environmentist and NDP leader Jack Layton's brand image of a working-class crusader seem to have been rejcted by Canadians.

"People do think the direction he [Harper] would take the country if he was unfettered from a minority government is something that they wouldn't like to see," suggested polster Darrell Bricker. "More in line with what George Bush might do if he was elected prime minister."

According to Bricker, 50% of Canadians agreed that a Harper majority would govern like George W Bush.

Another 50% seem to believe that Harper does have a hidden agenda.

45% disagreed with the notion that Jack Layton would act in the interest of working-class Canadians. It turns out that Layton may not be able to fill the Barack Obama-esque shoes he's picked out for himself. "When we start talking about things like issues he wants to talk about, I don't know that he has credibility," Bricker noted.

Liberal party leader Stephane Dion's Green Shift was rejected by 55% of polled Canadians.

But only 48% of Canadians believe electing Dion is too risky. "That means there's another 52 per cent who think that's not a problem. It shows that he's capable of being in the game," Bricker said. "It shows that instead of campaigning on specific environmental and economic issues, he should just be going after Harper."

Of course, on the other hand, it also means that Harper only has to maintain his focus on Dion's Green Shift. And just because 52% of Canadians don't yet think Dion is too big a risk to take, that doesn't mean they can't be convinced.

In the meantime, Canadian political leaders are going to have to get a lot more sophisticated if they want to be able to brand themselves according to their own wishes.

In some cases, the enterprise is largely doomed from the start. For example, Jack Layton wants to brand himself and his party as the party for "working class Canadians". Yet more and more working class Canadians are waking up to the reality that "working class" is really only a rhetorical abstraction, and that they've been enjoying the standard of living previously enjoyed by the so-called "middle class".

Layton seemingly has yet to clue in to the fact that, particularly in western Canada, non-unionized working class voters tend to vote Conservative rather than NDP.

For proof of that, one need only set foot on an Alberta drilling rig and ask them who they're voting for. Layton isn't terribly likely to get a rousing endorsement.

In other words, Dion continues to brand himself in a largely out-dated and innacurate role, while economic circumstances themselves serve as a counter-branding force.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper tries to brand himself as an inherently moderate politician. Which should be fair enough -- his time in office has mostly proven that to be true. But Harper is trying to do this while his opponents bend over backwards to portray him as "Steve", George W Bush's northern sidekick with a sinister hidden agenda.

In order to effectively re-brand, Harper would need to be able to decisively refute the counter-branding accusations of his opponents. This, of course, leaves him facing something of a dilemma: how does one refute a premise that rests on a fundamental lack of evidence for it?

The only way Harper could hope to re-brand his image would be to win a majority government than govern entirely differently than most Canadians seem to expect him to. Therein lies Harper's fundamental problem: a majority government is what most Canadians seem afraid to trust him with.

For Stephane Dion, his insistence that his Green Shift is economically safe is too easily undermined by the grandiosity of his plans. He could certainly follow Bricker's advice and simply attack Harper, but at the end of the day, he would be left without an image to rally voters around.

The famed Liberal party brand may be enough to secure the support of the Liberal partisans who aren't being driven away by his Green Shift ambitions, and perhaps even woo a few environmentalists (those who can be drawn away from the Green party and NDP). Yet there remains a question of whether or not Harper and the Conservatives won't recieve an election-day ballot box bonus in the form of conservative Liberals voting to avert a potential economic disaster with the Liberal party logo stamped all over it.

Canada's political leaders may be able to do a better job of selling their chosen brand images if they adjust their approach. Then again, the notion of choosing brand images that are more in line with the popular opinion of those leaders should have a certain pragmatic appeal as well.

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