Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The "Pundits Corner" Misses the Mark on How to Measure "Excitement" in Elections These Days.

The Calgary Herald has two political scientists “blogging” for them in this election to give “analysis of what is really going on.” They are worth a read but are very conventional in their perspectives...perhaps because they are academics after all…and one has to take with a grain of salt that they really know what is going on. In this election things are so volatile and variable that nobody knows what is “really going on.”

An example of the conventional, dare I say passé, point of view is that of U of Lethbridge Political Scientist, Peter McCormick and his recent rendering. His Five Ways to Measure Campaign Excitement are quintessentially quotidian and so out of date. Not wrong per se but so yesterday, obvious and mostly misleading.
I say misleading because “excitement” is not the test. Citizen engagement and voter turn out are the real tests of any election campaign's effectiveness. Excitement is a media construct not anything that is important to a voter or a requirement of an election. The world is run by those how show up and voters who show up run the world. Engagement

There is a whole new world of election information and citizen engagement that the Internet has wrought that Professor McCormick misses. I don’t know the gentleman but presume, as an academic, he is likely not an active partisan either. So he does not likely know the “excitement measures” and volunteer engagement that is internal to any election campaign either. But I could be wrong.

There is so much going on beyond the Professor’s tests of “coffee shop” chatter, the “sign wars,” paid advertising levels, opinion polls and voting day turn out. Not that they are not "measurements" but they are unreliable and increasingly irrelevant in the brave new (and morphing) world of elections.

Coffee shops are hardly representative samples of public opinion – especially in the go-go economy of Alberta…who has time to take extended coffee breaks to talk politics these days? Sign wars are becoming passé as well for three reasons, fewer people have party allegiances, fewer have time to volunteer and more are seeing them as pollution - visual and otherwise.

There is so much opportunity for earned media in an election that to resort to paid advertising to get your message out is the price you have to pay for being boring. Opinion polls and focus groups are a joke but MSM loves them for reasons of simplicity. “Opinion” polls are hardly representative of anything of substance anymore. This is because most people refuse to participate and those who do are as likely to lie to the pollsters as they are to tell the truth. I saw a great bumper sticker years ago. It said “Save Democracy – Lie to a Pollster.” Sound advice in some circles.

Voting day turn out is an accurate measurement of citizen engagement and I have no quibble with that but the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts of the candidates has a huge impact on turnout totals. That leads me to other real “excitement” measures internal to campaigns. The participation rate of campaign volunteers, the number of mail drops that get done the number of doors knocked, the number of phone calls made by volunteers – not professional services and ultimately – the amount of money raised are the real reliable measures of excitement and engagement in an election.

Then you have the phenomenon of the internet and the impact of Influentials as truer tests of excitement/engagement. Actual Bloggers who are citizen journalists and columnists who have a wide active readership and the amount of posts they do, ther new and returning and traffic requency plus the comment activity are all reliable measurement of excitement for a very a active and growing group of citizens. You Tube and Facebook activity is another modern measurement of political excitement/engagement any conventional observer would miss. Website traffic, readership, content updates and the number of active links are the new “coffee shop” for busy people - and a better measure of actual excitement and engagement.

The number of interest group surveys promulgated and targeted issues related campaign efforts directed at political parties and individual candidates are a better measure of citizen interest and engagement. The complexity of the issues being discussed in a campaign (and there are lots of complex issues these days) that are not being dumbed down by leaders and candidates is a more sophisticated measure of campaign effectiveness in their out reach to voters.

Readers of this Blog often hear me say campaign matter…and they do. What also matters is the new means and models of election campaigning that we have now emerged to reach voters and to be reached by voters. This technology had made it possible to have a dialogue and a virtual conversation between candidate and citizen – one-on-one actually for those candidates who blog too. The filter and traditional political agenda setting of the MSM is no longer dominant and new influential voices, like real bloggers, are publishing a wider range of input and opinion.

Old style politics are still around as are old style election techniques and commentary, but they are no longer mainstream. They are definitely not a measure of what is really going on in politics and elections these days either.