Transit referendum result highlights effectiveness of negative messaging, UBC political scientist says

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      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.”




      Jul 2, 2015 at 2:28pm

      How arrogant is it to think that people's opinions are buffeted by those windy messages. They know which side they fall on. If you vote for x group, and x group's message offends your sensibilities enough, you don't vote. If you're x group you just hope that y group is more offensive to humanity than your group. Apparently they're all offensive.

      Translink wasn't framed. They're bloated and incompetent.


      Jul 2, 2015 at 2:35pm

      So this student suggests a causal relationship between the defeat of the transit plebiscite and negative messaging conveyed by the BC Canadian Taxpayers Federation? Why do academic elites always assume that voters are incapable of making informed decisions?

      Many of my collegues have advanced degrees in science, engineering, and business, who have been consistantly making good personal and business decisions throughout of their life, and yet no one voted "Yes". I doubt any of them knew who Jordan Bateman is. They simply didn't trust Translink based on the number of years dealing with this organization.


      Jul 2, 2015 at 6:27pm

      translink is a business and it's time to start runing it like a business. Stop asking for more money and start making money or just sell it to privet secter and let a real business person run it not a politician.


      Jul 2, 2015 at 6:45pm

      Time to tax those who can afford expensive houses but pay little income tax.

      If the global elites want to park money here because it's stable, let's charge them and fund transit for all.


      Jul 2, 2015 at 7:47pm

      What a facile "analysis," but what does one expect from an individual getting his/her PhD from a real estate company? A thorough conditioning in what are the permitted lines of thought in academia apparently. The "yes" campaign spent their millions on an ever evolving series of propaganda messages each intended to trigger a specific response from voter and one of their primary methods was fear. Remember the threats of chaos of we didn't say "yes?" I would argue being told another million people are coming here and if we don't give the government more money the entire transit system will grind to a halt is "negative." I would argue that being told how fantastic and fabulous Translink is at doing their job but if we don't give them more money things will get ugly quickly is "negative." How about the spin from the Straight about how voting "no" means one hates those who need special access to transit? Pretty negative.

      The "yes" boosters promised great things if we just opened our wallets a teeny bit more. They managed to get support from a disparate range of special interests eager for access to the promised funds telling us how we would all get something for very little. The "yes" drones realized early on that many "no" voters found neither promises nor threats compelling and stepped up the propaganda on busses, trains, press releases from Mayor Gillespie-Robertson's taxpayer funded city propaganda machine: they even brought out the old fashioned agit-prop teams at some canada line stations! Good little Stakhanovites working for a better world.

      The greatest insult is the weak minded fantasy that the people who made the decision in this vote, and indeed every vote, are swayed by the propaganda from one side or the other. They are not: they are undecided because they see through the campaigns for the weak minded majority of voters. The undecideds don't belong to one herd or another, don't believe any party or ideology is capable of being inherently correct and do the best they can to make a rational analysis. No rational analyst could possibly advocate giving Translink more money. Just recently they "discovered" $100 million they were wasting, and that is before the organization is culled of mamangers and consultants. I voted "no" because I have seen little sign that my tax dollars are being wisely spent in many cases and by Translink in particular.


      Jul 2, 2015 at 8:39pm

      I was so underwhelmed by Moscrop's "analysis" of the transit referendum I must have sleep-read his tidbit about how he is confused by the lack of anti-mulcair work from the Cons. Is he that empty-headed? If the Cons masterminded an anti-mulcair campaign that cost the NDP any relevant support where will it go? They can't control vote-splitting so they can only influence their own numbers and that means shifting people from the right wing of the Liberals or finding independent voters. That doesn't mean driving NDP support to the Liberals, especially when Trudeau is having problems.


      Jul 2, 2015 at 11:40pm

      did they go hunting the only student that was too stupid to realize translink is bloated and elitist? Perhaps he feels they were competent? If so he would be a minority as this referendum clearly showed.

      If any of the wing nuts involved had added a third option advocating the tax as well as a new elected transit authority this would have won in a landslide. The fact that this third option wasn't available shows two things, first that translink is elitist and ignores customer opinion and second that Christy Clarke has given herself a new camophlage issue when she needs it.

      Can someone make sure I am not somehow funding the clown student they quoted for this article?


      Jul 3, 2015 at 10:28am

      It's not really about transit... the transit part was just an excuse to justify articulating the reasoning behind the Red/Blue Tory attack on the Federal Liberals by a guy that can't figure out why the Blue Tories haven't wasted too much ad time on NDP leaders over the last decade or why the Red Tories have taken out ads attacking Liberals this time around?

      This student is kidding right?
      The notion that the two Tories parties are working mightily towards the same strategy of keeping the Liberals from a working majority, is somehow beyond his comprehension or something?


      Jul 3, 2015 at 12:26pm

      I wish people like TKO would quit pretending that persons with advance degrees are somehow too wise to fall for propaganda and are more astute than the 'average' person. How many of the top moneymakers have advanced degrees? Also try reading up on con men like Uri Geller who found physicists to be the biggest rubes for his parlour tricks.

      There was no doubt that the negativity surrounding Translink was the biggest factor in this plebiscite. Bateman had an easy time of it and just kept his message simple and extremely negative. He offered no creative alternatives nor showed any sense of forward thinking. He just did his usual obnoxious soundbite claiming that 'hard-earned taxpayers money' is being wasted. That's all he ever says.

      Unfortunately, now that we've made this stupid mistake it's unlikely that our transit system is going to improve because apparently we have to 'fix Translink first' before we can raise or spend any money. Who's going to decide when it's fixed? Will it be Jordan Bateman? So far it looks like it and he's laughing all the way to the bank.