Lessons from 2013 election stunner

This past week marked the oneyear anniversary of the B.C. Liberals’ stunning re-election win, and it’s worth re-visiting some of the lessons we can take from that historic event.

1. Voter demographics are key. Election outcomes are determined by people who actually vote, not those who respond to polling firms.

According to Elections B.C. data, the voting turnout among age groups varies greatly. Those under the age of 35 have a turnout rate of slightly less than 40 per cent, while those aged 55 and older have a turnout rate of 66 per cent (and those over the age of 65 have a turnout rate of almost 75 per cent).

The implication of this is crucial for our two main political parties, and greatly explain why the B.C.

Liberals proved victorious last May 14th.

The NDP’s support is skewed by the disproportionately high support it enjoys by those under the age of 35. Simply put, many of its supporters don’t actually vote, while older, B.C. Liberal supporters do cast ballots.

And this situation is likely going to worsen for the NDP in the years ahead. Our population is getting older, not younger, and that bodes well for more conservative political parties (older people are generally more conservative than younger folks).

2. Beware of polls. A series of polls by some of Canada’s top pollsters all suggested the NDP had a big lead among voters at the beginning of the election campaign and a smaller edge near the end, but was still poised to take power.

However, the pollsters did not sufficiently take into account the fact many of its younger respondents in their on-line samples didn’t actually intend to vote, thus skewing the results of the polls.

It’s unlikely in the next election campaign that media coverage will be driven by pollsters. The polls created a false narrative last year (that the B.C. Liberals were tremendously unpopular and that voters wanted a change in government) that shaped all media coverage, and the media will be much warier next time around.

3. The televised leaders debate matters, and not for reasons you might think. The debate featuring B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix (and other leaders) was watched by a record-high audience and most postdebate analysis suggested it was a tie or that Dix somehow enjoyed a slight edge.

In fact, later research showed Clark won the debate hands down. While it is true that Dix’s answers to questions were more detailed and specific, the average voter watching was impacted more by the two leaders’ appearance and presence on television.

Clark came across as a positive, likeable and competent leader, while Dix looked angry, uncomfortable and shifty. It’s a reminder that the image, more than the content, often counts for more in politics.

One need only recall the famous debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Those listening on radio thought Nixon, the veteran, experienced vice-president who knew volumes about all topics discussed, was the winner. But those watching on television were captivated by the handsome, younger Kennedy.

4. Election campaigns themselves also matter. Clark ran a masterful campaign that had an easily defined message that was constantly communicated.

Always mindful to wear a hard hat at an industrial site each day, she talked about jobs and building an LNG industry that would generate tremendous amounts of money for the government.

Dix and the NDP, on the other hand, ran an unfocused, hodge-podge of a campaign that lacked a central theme. It was almost as if they were mailing it in, thinking they had victory in the bag. A top NDP strategist told me after the campaign that he went back and reviewed all the television coverage, and realized his party had been whipped by a superior campaign.

5. As U.S. political strategist James Carville once famously said: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Forget all the other issues. When most voters (particularly older ones) cast their ballots, they are thinking about their wallets. The B.C. Liberals and Clark talked only about the economy, both before and during the election campaign.

The NDP were all over the map, talking about child poverty, social services, even selling B.C. Place. And then there was the famous, critical “Kinder surprise” moment when Dix announced his opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, thus mortally wounding his party’s hopes outside the Lower Mainland.

The 2013 election was perhaps the most pivotal in B.C.’s history and one year later, it’s still worth taking a closer look at it. The lessons it offers hold the key to who wins in 2017.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca