Monday, June 25, 2012

Liberals should reconsider supporter opt-in process

While I didn’t support the creation of the Liberal “supporter”category that allows anyone that’s not a member of another party to vote for the party’s next leader without buying a membership, now that we have the system I do want it to be a success. And the integrity of the supporter system is going to be an important part of the next leadership race.

In a recent message to Liberals, the party touted the sign-up of over 10,000 supporters in the first month the system was up and running. It’s an impressive number, and I know many ridings are making signing up supporters a real priority, going door to door in their communities in examples of the kind of grass-roots activism and campaigning that will get the Liberal Party back on track.

I am concerned, though, about how real that 10,000 number is. That’s because another way many people are being signed-up are through the widely-circulated, issue-based petition drives coming out of the Liberal office in Ottawa. The petitions are mainly a data gathering exercise; the party wants to find out what issues you care about, and then send you targeted messaging (and fundraising pitches) in the future. It all makes good sense and is part of modern campaigning.

The problem, though, is evident in this petition drive on the closure of Coast Guard stations. As you can see, when you land on the petition page the box to automatically become a registered Liberal supporter with the signing of the petition is pre-clicked.

This raises several obvious concerns. For one, how many people don’t notice that box and just click submit, just wanting to express their opinion on the petition issue? Also, there’s no information or link to just what a supporter is or what that entails. There’s nothing, for example, about the commitment to “shared Liberal ideals” we heard about when creating the supporter category; also missing is the requirement to affirm you’re not a member of any other political party.

I’ve already been hearing anecdotal reports of riding associations getting lists of new supporters from Ottawa and phoning them to follow-up (outreach that’s great to see), only to have many of them surprised to find themselves on a supporters list. They’d just wanted to sign a petition.

I want to see us get this supporters thing right, and we need to avoid alienating potential supporters by not getting their informed consent. We want people to make the concious decision to become supporters, and we need to give that meaning. I hope we’ll re-visit pre-checking that box, and add more language or a link to more information on what being a supporter actually means.

Big numbers make nice headlines, but informed and committed supporters are what will make a difference.

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Jordan said...

I thought the supporter thing made sense first but if the party is't willing to put in the effort to get it right then it's pointless.

What's the sense of saying you signed up 50,000 supporters if only 15,000 of them vote in the leadership election? The idea was suppose to be to get people engaged with the Liberals without them having to pay to be an official member. Not for the executive to say we have X number of supporters.

I still believe the party should have had two votes for its leader whereby the first vote would allow all supporters and members to vote and the second and final vote would only allow members to vote for the leader, if nobody won 50% on the first ballot.

The Rat said...

If you had "supporters" last time 'round I guarantee you would have Hedy Fry as leader. Thousands of CPC members would have mad it so.

Steve V said...

Agreed. I hate when political parties try to trick in a sense, and a pre checked box to become a supporter undermines the integrity of the process. Let's earn support, not pad numbers using annoying tactics.