08 September 2008

Family Feud Week 2: Hit early, hit often; Williams starts polling; none of the usual suspects to run for Connies in St. John's East

Last week's smack from the federal Conservatives against their Provincial Conservative brethren sent the Premier off to poll his caucus to confirm everyone would support his promise to campaign against the federal Conservative party.

It was a classic example of using solid information to hit hard against a political foe in a way designed to strike at the foe's weakness.

After his quickie check over his shoulder by e-mail, the Premier found out that one of his caucus mates would abstain from the Feud.

Abstain?  What an odd word.

At the end of the week, outgoing fisheries minister Loyola Hearn took a few more swipes at Williams and his cabinet all of which no doubt heightened tensions considerably.

But if all that weren't enough, the federal Conservatives are claiming on Sunday that the Provincial Conservatives are polling on the Family Feud.  Conservative spokesman Steve Outhouse released the questions gleaned from one person who says she was surveyed. The whole thing is at Geoff Meeker's blog, Meeker on Media.

On top of that, Outhouse follows up with a new twist:  third party campaigning has to be reported to Elections Canada.

“As you know, Elections Canada has rules – and I don’t know them inside and out – that limit and require people to report what third parties are spending on a campaign. If ABC is moving past a philosophy or slogan and into an actual campaign, where money is being spent and polling is being done, with the specific intent to defeat a political party, just like a union or special interest group, all that information would need to be registered with Elections Canada.”

In the second week of campaigning, the Premier is evidently well behind in terms of his planning and definitely off track as far as Family Feud messaging is concerned.

No attacks.

Just defence.

On Monday, he'll be defending on the polling issue, facing questions of his caucus about which one isn't on board with the Feud and he'll also be fending off questions about the name of the new candidate in St. John's East.

The name, apparently, is not any of the ones bandied around so far.  That takes Rideout, Sullivan, Beth Marshall and Terry French out of play.

There'll likely be references to threats being made to deter other candidates, which the Premier will deny with his stock line:  "nothing could be further from the truth." 

Unfortunately for him, that's one of those phrases that just screams the opposite of what the words say.  The more he uses it, the worse it sounds.  And he'll have to keep using it unless and until he actually starts campaigning;  well, if he starts campaigning and that will be determined by the polling numbers.

It's really curious that polling has only started at this point rather than some weeks ago. Asking people if they've heard of the anti-Harper campaign? 

It would appear more bizarre that Williams would be feeling the waters to see if he should campaign across the country:  he's already committed to do just that.

Just think back, though and you can see a familiar pattern re-emerging.

Williams likes to test the waters before he jumps in on major political projects like this.  Like late 2004. Williams hauled down Canadian flags and then was taken aback by the spontaneous and angry response he received. 

A hasty poll - done by Ryan Research - showed that even with the questions and suggested responses skewed to push a Williams-favourable answer, the flag thing pissed off people everywhere across the country, including Newfoundland and Labrador.

Williams' public messaging on the flags shifted too, softening as more and more angry e-mails and letters poured in.  He got the polling data and poof, the flags went up without anything approaching the commitment he demanded the day they came down. He passed it off as a grand gesture at the time, but the reality was revealed in documents obtained by the Telegram through open records laws. 

In Newfoundland and Labrador 38% were completely supportive and 29% were not supportive at all. With a margin of error of almost five percent, those figures could be 33% completely supportive and 34% completely unsupportive. Those results were available to the Premier possibly as early as January 6 and may have prompted his admission to news media on January 7 that the flag issue had cost him support. Even at home, as Williams may well have known, his flag flap was a loser at worst, a distraction at best.

There is no way of knowing for sure, but it is interesting the coincidence that this polling was completed nationally on January 9 and that Premier Williams ordered flags raised on January 10. The move surprised everyone, coming, as it did, in the midst of a news conference to announce a call for expressions of interest in developing the Lower Churchill.