Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Changing Your Political Brand

In the CBC article detailing the win by Alberta's Progressive Conservatives that I reference in one of my previous posts, the piece quotes political scientist Duane Bratt:
I think the Liberal brand is so toxic in this province that the only way they can survive is a name change.
It's not the first time this has come up.

So, what's in a name? Is sharing the name with the federal Liberal Party really that toxic for Alberta Liberals?

The Yukon Party was formerly known as the Yukon Progressive Conservative Party. They chose to change their name due to the decline in popularity of the federal Progressive Conservative Party. The Yukon Party formed a minority government in 1992, then sat in opposition until 2002 - they've governed ever since.

The Saskatchewan Party, while not formerly a rebranding of the Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative Party (which still wants to exist), was formed in 1997 and is considered to be dominated by former Progressive Conservatives who are attempting to escape association with the previous PC government under Grant Devine. The Saskatchewan Party sat in opposition until 2007, until November when they formed a majority government.

With the exception of British Columbia, none of the provincial big-c conservative parties have rebranded themselves as the Conservative Party within their respective provinces - choosing to remain the Progressive Conservative Party - BC changed to the Conservative Party in 1991. The Progressive Conservative "brand" is the government in Alberta (since 1971), Nova Scotia (since 1999), and Newfoundland & Labrador (since 2003).

Contrast this with the federal party - post-merger, the party was renamed the Conservative Party in 2003. The party remained in opposition until 2006.

So, does changing a party's name influence electoral results?

It seems to be the case - anecdotally. A Liberal is a Liberal and a Conservative is a Conservative - it doesn't matter if it's federal or provincial. Provincial Liberals were as much to blame for AdScam, as provincial Conservatives were harbouring a secret right-wing agenda. For the NDP, it's a little more concrete.

However, it doesn't seem to play out that way in an actual election.

The Yukon and Saskatchewan Parties sat in opposition for 10 years before forming government. And, remaining Progressive Conservative did not seem to impact provincial party success (or failure) in the provinces that have them.

If the Alberta Liberals changed their name, it will not likely change their electoral fortune. Ultimately, voters change governments when they get tired of the old one or if they like the message of an opposition party.

Alberta Liberals can change their name, but they'll either have to hope that Albertans tire of the Progressive Conservatives (electoral success since 1971 - ahem), or they'll have to change their message.

A rose by any other name, and all that.

Playing devil's advocate for the moment, only Conservative parties have attempted to change their name to try to garner electoral success - a Liberal party has not. So, it may not be entirely possible to separate the failure of the name change from a failure for a Conservative message.

As an aside, a Google search for "liberal party alberta" comes up with the Liberal Party of Canada (Alberta) website first with a big old picture of St├ęphane Dion on it, and the Alberta Liberal Party, second.

Contrast that with a search for "conservative party ontario", the first link is the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.

Updated: Cleaning up some of the awkwardness.


Kailash Chand said...
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Jim (Progressive Right) said...

Spam comment.