Monday, June 25, 2007

The quest for the holy BBQ tongs

At long last that most feted of seasons has arrived: the summer political BBQ season. To the grills the politicians will scurry, apron adorned with tongs in hand (no chef hats, ever!), ready to flip their polling numbers and a hamburger patty at the same time.

Maclean's Scott Fescuk has a fun column on how the political chattering classes tend to treat the BBQ circuit as a political cure-all, and he’s not far off. Steve also weighs in with a more analytical questioning of the BBQ effect.

But as I've often harped on the need for Stephane Dion to turn in a good performance on the BBQ circuit this summer, I’d like to throw my two cents in here.

A summer BBQ tour isn’t about generating big headlines in the national media. It’s not about an overnight bump or jump in the polls. It may well seem like Dion will disappear this summer to observers of the national media, and I won’t expect any summer movement in Liberal polling numbers.

Rather, if done right, a BBQ tour is about getting out of the Ottawa bubble and generating headlines in the local community media, which is more receptive to the message than the jaded national press corps.

It’s also about meeting with small groups of Canadians, letting them get to know you a bit, and become more comfortable with the idea of voting for you down the road. And seeing you unfiltered through the media lens.

Instead of being about moving poll numbers, it’s about setting the stage for future poll movement. It’s about making people more comfortable with the idea of voting for you. Particularly as an opposition leader. So that down the road, when the government starts to defeat itself (as they usually do) and the winning conditions start to emerge people will be open to voting for you and see you as a viable alternative.

Stephen Harper’s summer on the BBQ circuit after the 2004 election is an oft-repeated cast study, but it’s oft-repeated because it worked. He disappeared from the national media spotlight as he toured small town Canada and grilled burgers and dogs. The national media had much fun writing him off, and he wasn’t rewarded with a bump in the polls. But he had softened the ground so that as he Liberals stumbled in the following campaign he was in a position to capitalize.

So, it is right to not view the BBQ tour as a cure-all. But it’s not meant to be. But while their importance shouldn’t be overstated, they do have a role to play. It’s just important to understand what that role is.

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1 comment:

Gauntlet said...

While there wasn't a lot in "Right Side Up" that I bought, one thing I did buy was the argument that putting Harper on the BBQ circuit in 2004 was not so much designed to change the polls, or media perception, or grassroots perception. It was designed to change Harper. It was practice for the rallying the troops stuff that Harper was going to have to do during the campaign. And he got better at it, undoubtedly. So can Dion, so why not?