Even in light of David Soknacki’s withdrawal from the mayor’s race last night, I refuse to go blaming a campaign team for over-estimating the public’s desire to engage in meaty policy thinking during an election campaign. It’s a good instinct to have, I think. Optimistic. Displaying faith in your fellow human beings. Respecting our collective intelligence.
Unfortunately, it also may be somewhat misguided. What a candidate really seems to need to be successful is an image consultant not some nerdy issue wonks. Keep it simple. Most people don’t pay that much attention.
“Ultimately, the reason Ford got elected is that voters were very superficial,” says [Soknacki campaign manager Brian] Kelcey, noting his awareness that these comments may come back to haunt him. “I believe that the reason voters were willing to vote for Ford in 2010 in such numbers was because they were being superficial about municipal issues. That they wanted change, but they bought into the idea that the solutions could were simple and could be expressed in meaningless slogans without a plan to back them up… The challenge is that we’re still facing superficial voters, and the voters who are being anti-Ford may be being as superficial as the voters who were being pro-Ford in 2010, by not demanding more of the other candidates.”
While this, in David Hains’ fantastic Torontoist piece from yesterday, might come across as sour grapes from a failed campaign, it’s difficult to disagree with Mr. Kelcey at this point. Even in a campaign this long, months and months long, there was very little space given over to detailed ideas and platforms with even two dimensional complexity. Freak shows and catchphrases. Toronto Votes 2014.
Maybe that’s just politics in the Rob Ford era. 2010, Rob Ford, good. 2014, Rob Ford, bad.
But I think it goes much deeper than that. We’d like to think that in a robust democracy substance matters. An informed electorate will look past personalities and zippy slogans, and dig down into the meat of matters. The message is what matters not the messenger.
The fact is, we’d be idiots to believe that. “Firstly, it must be said that Soknacki is a dedicated and conscientious policy wonk and, I think, a genuinely decent human being,” @mightygodking tweeted last night. “All of that said: so what? This is politics. It is not THE WEST WING.”
We can blame this on all those ‘low-information’ voters out there, too busy or too ignorant to take the time to become really informed, but I suspect most of us are not immune to our visceral, initial impressions of a candidate. Many of us love our brand affiliations. This is why the ‘NDP candidate’ Olivia Chow barb from John Tory has stuck so clingingly. That’s gut trumping brains.
Everybody knew that this campaign would be some sort of referendum on Mayor Rob Ford. That tends to happen when an incumbent runs for re-election. The calculus of engaging that by each candidate was different.
David Soknacki and his team rolled the dice, figuring the public was tired of the outrageous antics of the mayor, and wanted somebody the exact opposite. A low key, less colourful figure with good ideas. Toronto just wanted some peace and quiet, and for city council to get on with running things competently.
The problem for Team Soknacki turned out to be that John Tory did them one better. He was low key and less colourful than Rob Ford minus the good ideas part which rarely counts for all that much in an election campaign. Sorry.
Where in 2010, Rob Ford caught the spirit of voters with one word, resentment, John Tory is doing it in 2014, competency. Is he competent? Doesn’t matter. His suit fits perfectly.
David Soknacki ran smack dab into the impermeable bubble of illusion created by money, influence and class, frankly. The patrician John Tory had the Those Seeking Competency Above All Else vote from the outset. He didn’t have to prove it. He just was.
But I will throw mad props out to David Soknacki and all those who dedicated their time and energy to his candidacy for actually thinking we were prepared to engage in an issues-oriented campaign, for making a bid to our better angels. For various reasons, we weren’t up to the task. Toronto scared itself shitless 4 years ago and now was desperately, irrationally trying to un-inflict the damage. 2014 was no time to engage in ideas about the future.
– grumpily submitted by Cityslikr