Metro Vancouver’s transit referendum reinforces one thing about negative messaging—a lesson worth noting in an election year—says a UBC PhD student of political science.
“Negative messaging tends to work, and the framing, the battle of how you frame an issue is as important as the issue itself,” David Moscrop told the Straight in a phone interview.
For that, one doesn’t really need a ton of money, as the referendum showed. The victorious “no” campaign spent $40,000, and the “yes” side $5.8 million.
With federal parties gearing up for the 2015 election, this point is significant.
“The federal parties are certainly going to have an interest in trying to be able to frame the election because each party has strengths and weaknesses around certain issues,” said Moscrop after Elections B.C. announced today (July 2) that the “no” side prevailed.
Moscrop explained: “If this [transit referendum] ends up being a case study in how framing your opponent as being incompetent and elitist and bloated, you know, which is what they did with TransLink, I mean if that worked, then of course everyone is going to try that.”
He noted that the Conservatives have been working hard at framing the campaign around Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
“They frame Trudeau as not ready,” Moscrop said. “It’s interesting that they don’t even say that he would never make a good prime minister, that he’s unfit. They frame it as he’s just actually not ready to be prime minister right now almost as if they’re asking voters to just give them another four or five years, right, and then they don’t care.”
That the Conservatives have started working early on Trudeau also demonstrates one key lesson that the “no” campaign had put in play in the transit referendum.
“The ‘yes’ side was late to the party. The ‘no’ side had framed the issue well before the ‘yes’ side even got started,” Moscrop said.
Moscrop is puzzled as to why the Conservatives haven’t really gone after Tom Mulcair of the NDP, who has been enjoying favourable ratings in numerous polls.
Perhaps there’s one explanation, according to Moscrop: “Maybe they think that those numbers are soft and Mulcair will come back to earth sometime soon.”