Philippe J. Fournier: Who is leading the party won’t matter as much as who can get the vote out in the next general election

So what is the Conservative winning recipe in 2020? In January, I wrote an analysis of a Léger poll that focused on what Canadians thought about policy and personality traits for the new Conservative leader. For instance, the data suggested the CPC would take a tremendous risk by electing a leader with social conservative views—a significantly greater fraction of respondents, including CPC supporters, believe that the party should elect a pro-choice and LGBT-friendly leader.

However, while these policy choices have garnered a lot of media attention (and will undoubtedly storm back during the next general election campaign), they may not matter much, if at all, to the CPC leadership race. According to Frank Graves of EKOS Research Associates, “the party knows where it is and how it got there. It’s the strategists and media who are living in something that looks a lot like a state of denial.” Commenting on its latest data of the Canadian electorate, Graves states that: “As in the U.K. and the U.S., authoritarian or ordered populism has polarized Canada into two incommensurable camps.”

Such polarization is neither new to Canada nor to many western democracies. But with little (and narrowing) common ground to be found between liberals and conservatives—in broader terms than just parties—the big tent coalitions that shaped Canada’s political landscape for most of the 20th century have, it seems, mostly disappeared.

The point of this column isn’t that policy does not matter to Canadian voters. But with political polarization on the rise in Canada, parties will assuredly find that the largest pool of accessible voters cannot be found within your opponents’ ranks, but among Canadians who stayed home on election day—roughly a third of eligible adults. The ground game, and a detailed analysis of precious voter data, may matter far more than many would like to believe.