Taking your base for granted can have serious political consequences.
It is often said that politics is a game of ‘addition, not subtraction,’ and that is certainly correct.
In a country like Canada with people of diverse backgrounds and diverse beliefs, any national party will be made up of different groupings.
For the Conservatives, they are mostly a grouping of libertarians, social conservatives, populists, old school Tories, and socially-moderate fiscal conservatives.
With the party stuck around 30%, and needing to hit at least 35% to have a chance at a minority government, the party needs to add to their current supporters without losing any.
And yet, in their recent messaging and now the move to throw Derek Sloan under the bus on a flimsy pretext, the party appears to believe they have all their voters completely locked in.
It seems the thinking is that they can get that extra 5% by being seen as ‘purging’ Sloan and moving away from social conservatives.
However, that assumes two things:
1: That there are a bunch of Canadians currently supporting Trudeau who are just about to bolt for the Conservatives
2: Social conservatives have to vote for the CPC.
The fact is, there is no guarantee those things are true.
Let’s imagine for a moment that about 1/3 of current Conservative supporters are social conservatives (it might be more).
If they lose a portion of that support, the party could go from 30% to 25%.
If they don’t gain any new voters from the Liberals or other parties (AKA if O’Toole’s rebranding effort fails), then the party will be worse off than they are now.
However, lets assume they get that extra 5% after losing some social conservative support.
They would be back at 30%.
Yet, they would be worse off in a few tangible ways.
Having spent time in the Conservative Party, I have seen that social conservatives tend to have a disproportionally large impact in terms of fundraising and volunteering. They are a key part of the functioning of the party. If the party loses them, or even a portion, their fundraising and electoral machinery could be weakened.
The party certainly can’t win if they only listen to social conservatives, but they also can’t win if they completely ignore them.
This is the problem with taking voters for granted: People can simply stay home or vote for someone else.
That’s what happened to the Liberals for many years.
Stephen Harper was never popular among Liberals, yet the party managed to demoralize many of their own supporters under the Dion and Ignatieff years, so while the Conservative vote stayed relatively stable, the Liberal vote declined, giving the Conservatives more and more seats.
The same could hold true with Justin Trudeau.
His policies and attitude will never be popular among conservatives. But just saying ‘Trudeau bad!’ is no guarantee of locking up every conservative vote. If conservatives feel demoralized, if people feel the party doesn’t have their back, and if they feel the difference between the parties is narrowing, some people will stay home or move their votes elsewhere.
And, there is also the issue of the blatantly obvious bait-and-switch that took place:
People remember this stuff, and again, it doesn’t mean people will vote for Trudeau, but it could mean some people simply stay home and check out of politics for a while, or get involved in other parties.
That’s why Conservative MPs – particularly those who represent groups that O’Toole may seek to ‘distance’ himself from next – need to stand up for their principles and show respect towards those who constitute their party.
Photo – YouTube