Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Slogans and Sound Bites Make a Candidate a Winner

A poll came out on Monday, September 20th showing Toronto Mayoralty Candidate Rob Ford so far ahead of the rest of the pack that he has a true statistical lead (the others are essentially neck and neck or close, factoring in variability). His platform is essentially based on voter anger at politicians, at City Hall, at government spending, just like Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cohorts constantly campaign on anger at the "elites." They seem to just get more and more popular, no matter what is thrown at them, and the pundits scratch their heads.

But, you know, it's really easy to go "Yeah!" when you hear these men speak because they talk in sound bites that grab your gut. It's easy to get excited by a sound bite with the dearth of real leadership in Canada. But more importantly, with our short attention spans, it takes effort to pay attention to politicians with big ideas and well-thought-out reasoning, who expect we have functioning brain cells and like to use them. We don't wanna work that hard, think longer than 5 seconds, think beyond epithets and easy slogans. Except that doesn't explain Barack Obama. Well it does because he used a catchy phrase, campaigned on a simple premise -- change! -- and that helped to overcome his "deficit" of requiring us to focus and listen and chew over his ideas. For most who didn't wanna, they could lean on his catchy slogan, his hip coolness, his energy and vitality. He has charisma.

Charisma is that intangible that lifts those who have it above everyone else.

But when all the leaders don't have it, sound bites work. When I think about Ford versus the other candidates, I know immediately what he stands for -- cut wasteful spending, save taxpayer money, listen to the ignored taxpayer -- because he repeats it over and over to everyone. But to know where the others stand on various issues -- given they're not one-issue candidates -- I have to check out their websites, read whole newspaper articles, follow their tweets. I can't articulate their vision in a single word or short slogan. And they haven't either.

Harper apparently learnt this KISS lesson after his last losing election. When he switched to the easy campaigning of simple concepts, blame the "elites", foster anger against the "bad guys", propound fiscal responsibility, he won. Of all the leaders in Canada's Parliament, I have the clearest sense of his vision. Layton is probably the next closest and could even capitalize on taxpayer anger by focusing his entire campaign on restoring democracy to Canadians. Now there's a slogan I could get behind. If Toronto's mayoralty candidates, if Canada's Oppositions leaders, want to beat the Fords and Harpers, they'd better get to sloganizing their visions in one or two words. And if their vision doesn't capitalize on anger, they'd better make that slogan exciting and energizing.

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