Campaigns matter? Well, sure. Of course.
But so do issues.
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The first truism is said so often, it’s a cliché. All of us can think of elections wherein what was supposed to happen, didn’t. Clinton versus Trump in 2016. Trudeau versus Harper in 2015. In those contests, the campaign mattered — a lot.
Clinton underperformed and lost a sure thing. Trudeau overperformed — and brought his Liberal Party from third place to first, and defeated a Conservative majority government in the process.
So, campaigns matter. But so do issues, this year.
Proof isn’t hard to find. Take a gander at what’s happening down south, with the U.S. midterms fast approaching. Every pundit and pollster had long predicted that President Joe Biden was heading towards an electoral pounding of Biblical proportions.
Voters were mad at Biden for inflation. They were mad about the price of a gallon of gas. They were mad about how he didn’t seem to have a plan for the economy or the future.
Republicans were giddy, and absolutely certain they’d retake the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. But they’re not so certain anymore — and it’s got Republicans scrambling, and Democrats feeling a lot more optimistic.
The reason? Issues. Because, in 2022, issues matter.
For example: public opinion isn’t unanimous on abortion and gay rights. But it’s largely settled. In America — as in Canada — the majority support reproductive rights for women, and equal treatment for LGBTQ people. They don’t want those divisive issues revisited.
But Republicans “can’t seem to get out of their own way,” says Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat up for re-election in the midterms. And he’s right. Last week, his fellow senator — North Carolina’s Lindsay Graham, a Trump confidante — solemnly promised to enact a nationwide ban on abortion.
By stubbornly opposing abortion — in some cases, not even for rape and incest — the GOP is wildly out of step with prevailing opinion in the U.S.
The same holds true on gay rights. So, last week, Senate Republicans refused to commit to a bill that would protect gay marriages. The vote has now been delayed until after the midterms – thereby giving Biden’s Democrats plenty of opportunity to depict campaigning Republicans as troglodytes.
Immigration, too, is not an issue in which there is unanimity — far from it. So, when Florida’s Ron De Santis recently dumped a planeload of penniless migrants on Martha’s Vineyard, at taxpayer expense, hardline Republicans loved it.
But, as the New York Times reported: “While polls show that most Republicans draw a hard line on immigration, they also find that the majority of Americans regard immigration as a positive and are particularly sympathetic to refugees, suggesting that the GOP stunt — which stranded vulnerable people in a place unprepared for their arrival — could also prompt outrage among voters who regard it as cruel.”
There are lessons for Canadian politicians and political parties, here. And some are paying close attention.
When the U.S. Supreme Courts conservative majority signaled it would toss out the pro-abortion Roe v. Wade precedent, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speedily moved to take advantage of the issue, promising never to let such a thing happen here. Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre executed a whiplash-inducing flip-flop, and renounced his previous opposition to abortion — but said he’d permit his caucus to bring forward anti-abortion laws.
The two major parties mainly agree on gay rights and immigration. Their differences are minimal.
But on other big issues, big differences remain. Liberals tend to be anti-gun, Conservatives pro-gun. Grits mainly favour vaccine mandates and public health measures while Tories mainly don’t. And Liberals remain resolutely opposed to the so-called freedom convoy occupations while Conservatives, and Poilievre in particular, are defiantly supportive of the convoy types.
On all of those issues, Liberals are more in sync with public opinion than the Conservatives.
Campaigns matter. And the coming campaign is going to be nasty, and hard-fought. But it won’t just be about personalities.
It’s going to be about issues, too.
Because issues matter.
— Kinsella volunteers for the Biden Democrats in the coming mid-term elections