Coming soon to a pre-election ad campaign near you: A lightning rod in a sweater vest?

Nik Nanos discusses his latest findings on how the public perceives the strengths and weaknesses of the Conservative government:

[…]The research indicates that Canadians are more likely to associate weaknesses with the Conservative government as opposed to strengths (65% can articulate a weakness and 36% can articulate a strength). Of concern for the Tories is that one of every five Canadians believes the Conservatives have no strength whatsoever. Comparing that to the 3% who say the Tories have no weakness suggests that the anti-Harper sentiments are much firmer than the pro-Harper sentiments. Likewise, the weaknesses associated with the Conservatives at the time of the survey are linked to many of the former strengths – Stephen Harper himself, transparency in government and economic management.

Overall Prime Minister Stephen Harper is twice as likely to be identified as a weakness than as a strength which suggests that he is personally becoming a lightning rod for discontent with the government. This is not surprising since the Conservative political strategy has largely centered on Harper.

From a communications point of view there are really only two options – to try to change views related to the Prime Minister or to refocus on a Conservative team by regionalizing the face of the Conservative Party. Recasting views on the Prime Minister is possible but requires a longer term time horizon – one longer than the likely timing of the next election. Refocusing on a Conservative team is a more feasible short-term strategy.

The key take-away from the research is that there are a number of paths forward for the Conservatives. The Tories could recalibrate and refocus their image in order to overturn negative perceptions or alternatively to drive negative perceptions of the Liberals so that the Liberals are perceived as a worse comparative choice. The current round of attack ads suggest that the Conservative strategy at this time is to focus on the Liberals and not to expend effort to turn around negative perceptions of the government.

The full results are available here — thank you, Nanos Research, for being so prompt in putting all the nitty gritty details online.

ITQ’s thoughts: Well, if Nanos is right — which he has a downright eerie tendency to be — what this tells us is that when it comes to attack ads, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. It’s hard — by which I mean impossible —  to see this particular prime minister signing onto any strategy that emphasizes the team rather than the leader, what with the leader being him and all, and you can bet that the sycophants and supplicants that make up the current innermostiest circle at PMO will be falling all over each other to reassure him that he’s not the problem — it’s everyone and everything else that is to blame. That, or it’s all the media’s fault, which is always a popular defence to use in these sorts of situations. After all, it is, within all political parties, a truthiness universally acknowledged that a leader in possession of a bit of bad political fortune must be in want of fairer treatment from the press. Once again, we’ll be charged with the high crimes of Deliberately Ignoring All The Good Things The Government Has Done/Is Doing while simultaneously Giving The Liberals A Free Ride — all the while, of course, harbouring borderline seditious anti-Harper sentiments that colour every aspect of our coverage. It’s worth noting that there are a good number of C/conservatives who don’t buy that theory for a second, but when one is dealing with a prime minister who, as far as his party’s public image, seems to have gone from asset to albatross, you get used to nodding along in apparent abject agreement with whatever tortured loop of Wonderland logic will make him less likely to fly into a rage.

Beyond that, it’s hard to see how this bodes anything but ill for the prospect of an election campaign that doesn’t leave everyone involved questioning the very concept of democracy itself, at least in its current form, but really, that’s not so very much of a change from what happened the last time around, or the time before that, or the one before that. To paraphrase a great philosopher-robot: Why stop now just when we’re hating it?