The Republicans may hold the secret to the progressives’ return to power…yes, seriously!
Let’s start at the beginning…
Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson in their glib little book The Big Shift argue that Western Canada, particularly Alberta, is responsible for the tsunami of support that carried Stephen Harper to victory on May 2, 2011.
To be clear, Bricker & Ibbitson didn’t say that Mr Harper’s success rested solely on Alberta’s shoulders (thank God). Ontario’s suburban middle class (area code 905) and immigrant voters helped push Mr Harper over the top.
Bricker & Ibbitson proclaim that Mr Harper will be ensconced at 24 Sussex Drive, like a barnacle on a rock, for a long, long time unless the progressives adopt his winning strategy; namely recognize that Canada made a seismic shift to the right and cater to it.
Apparently Mr Harper’s 4 point strategy (reduce taxes, balance the books, promote the military and crack down on crime) resonates with the New Canadian Right in a way that the progressives’ passé policies never will. Taxpayer-funded private healthcare and private education, here we come!
The “big shift” to the right would be the death knell of the progressives (federally and provincially) if it were true. But it’s not. Whew!
A Big Shift …Really?
Bricker & Ibbitson’s conclusion rests on demographic and polling data. This neatly sidesteps a fundamental flaw in their analysis—the youth vote was grossly underrepresented. Only 39% of the 18 to 24 year olds showed up compared to 75% of the 65 to 74 year olds.*
Instead of sifting through the ashes of unreliable polling data (remember the polling fiascos in the Alberta and BC elections?) and extrapolating the results to the burgeoning immigrant population, it’s time to gaze into a new crystal ball.
As luck would have it I happen to have one right here. Voila! The report of the College Republicans National Committee entitled “Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation”.
Enter the Republican Party…Yes, seriously!
After the disastrous 2012 US election, the Republicans embarked on a soul searching mission to figure out how to capture the youth vote by broadening the GOP’s appeal beyond the “old white guys”.**
The CRNC set up six focus groups comprised of young voters from both ends of the political spectrum. Their responses revealed not just how they viewed the Republican party, but more importantly, how they viewed themselves.
Young voters wanted to be seen as intelligent, hard working, caring and open-minded. Their feedback was replete with comments that no doubt knocked the socks off the “old white guys”.
- A “social safety net” program is necessary to get people back on their feet quickly
- Gays should be allowed to marry
- Reduce the defence budget and use the savings to increase the education budget
- Increase taxes on the wealthy (Take that Mitt Romney!)
The CRNC responded to this feedback with five recommendations, one of which was to develop a reputation for being “caring” by linking economic growth and opportunity to “caring” policies.
“When it comes to the issue of caring, the Republican Party can push back [on the Democrats] by promoting a narrative of economic growth and opportunity, with policies behind it that clearly show how those who are down on their luck or disadvantaged aren’t left out. If we don’t believe that Republicans are the “fend for yourself” party, then it’s time for us to explain why—and to show our work”.***
Note: I’m not saying I believe the GOP has changed its spots, simply that the Republicans (of all people) finally figured out that young voters will not support a government that doesn’t care about its less fortunate citizens.
What we can learn from the Republicans
Bricker & Ibbitson got it wrong. The progressives don’t need to become a “me-too” party that caters to the New Canadian Right. That’s the purview of the “old white guys”.
Instead, the progressives need to understand the underlying message of the Republican’s report—young voters want to be perceived as intelligent, responsible, caring and open-minded and want to belong to a political party that exemplifies these qualities.
Young voters have recognized that “it’s not all about me” and are prepared to vote against parties that are so stupid, uncaring, narrow minded and selfish that they’d destroy the social safety net in order to shave a few bucks off the austerity budget.
Now here’s the catch. In order to get back into power progressive parties need more than just the right progressive values. In addition to being intelligent, responsible, caring and open-minded, the progressives need to be unselfish. They will have to cooperate or even merge in order to communicate the message that “we really are all in this together”.
And if that’s not the definition of a democratic society I don’t know what is.
*Elections Canada Report, Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group and Gender at the 2011 Federal General Election, Apr 2012 p 7
***Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation” p. 86.