Federal Budget 2013 – Listening and Responding to Target Markets

Blogger: David Coletto

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Budgets are both political and administrative documents.  While they set the agenda for spending and government planning for next year, budgets also signal to stakeholders and the public the key priorities of the government broadly speaking.  As the Harper government enters a period of transition (possible cabinet shuffle and the likely selection of Justin Trudeau as Liberal leader), the 2013 budget has clear signals to segments of the population who have supported the Conservatives in the past and are most likely to do so in the future.

In the age of the permanent campaign in Canada the Conservative Party of Canada and the Harper Government have taken a highly market-orientated approach to campaigning and governing.  It listens to, develops policies for, and delivers those policies specifically to the segments of the population that supported it in 2011 and it hopes will continue to support the party in the next election.

In this analysis, we use data from a recent national survey (in February 2013) to compare the priorities of Canadians who voted Conservative in 2011 (Harper Government Target), those who are in segments most likely to be open to vote Conservative, and those who are in segments unlikely targets for the Conservatives.

The objective is to understand how the Harper government’s target segment is reacting to the government’s actions and messaging and what that means for organizations as they plan their strategic advocacy efforts.

Since the Harper Government thinks and acts strategically, so too should your advocacy and research efforts.

What is the Harper Government’s “Target Market” outside of Quebec?

These include base voters who are ideologically linked to the Conservative Party but also those voters who are attracted to the policies, brand, and image the Conservative Party and Stephen Harper have developed since forming government in 2006.

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The three broad segments discussed in this paper are not mutually exclusive but are based on two factors: (1) if the respondent voted Conservative in 2011 and (2) if they are members of one of the segments detailed in the table below.

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Job security, socio-economic mobility, and increasing after tax income are priorities the federal government can easily deliver on.  Consider the marquee policies of the Harper Government since 2006: reduction in the GST by two percentage points, tougher criminal justice laws, the child care allowance, tax credits for public transit and sports programs, infrastructure and transit spending, income splitting and deficit reduction.  All these policies are easily measurable, communicated, and have a noticeable impact on the target markets identified above.

Like all good political brands, the Harper Government’s brand has been built around a simple, aspirational theme: only Stephen Harper and the Conservatives can manage the Canadian economy and improve economic growth and prosperity during these difficult economic times.

As the data below demonstrates, most of the Conservative coalition has held in place but there may be signs of a coming shift in that message as more Canadians, especially within the Harper Government’s target markets, begin to worry more about the economy and their own retirement or job security.

Budget 2013 and Market-Oriented Government

When thinking about the 2013 Budget, it’s useful to think about how the budget document appeals to these groups and how in future budget asks, your proposals appeal to these groups.  If the Harper Government is concerned that support among financially extended families and those in the middle class, a focus on job and skills training aligns well with the concerns and priorities of that segment of their target market.

This kind of analysis and strategic research is part of the services Abacus Data can provide clients to improve their advocacy efforts and help achieve objectives.

Thinking and acting like a market-oriented advocacy organization makes it easier to connect and engage with a market-oriented government or political organization.

The remainder of the document outlines the findings from Abacus Data’s February 2013 national survey.

General Direction of the Country

The vast majority of Canadians who voted Conservative in 2011 believe the country is headed in the right direction overall.  This is significantly different than both Conservative target and non-target segments.

There is a wide gap between those who voted CPC and the broader target market for the Tories outside of Quebec.  Most Conservative voters are satisfied with the direction of the country – and are reassured that their choice in 2011 was the right one.  However, a large portion (27%) either believe the country is on the wrong track or they are not sure indicating that some of the core Conservative voter base is up for grabs and explains their low poll position relative to the results of the 2011 election.

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Priorities

The economy and job creation and health are the top priorities for a majority of Canadians but the Conservative target market differs considerably with other Canadians on other priorities including retirement, the environment, and education.

In the same survey (Feb 2013) we asked respondents to rank a number of issues from most important to least important to them personally.  The two charts below report the results for the first and second ranked responses by policy issue.

Health care was ranked top issue by about three in ten respondents in all three markets.  Among 2011 Conservative voters, health care (32%) was statistically tied with economic development (31%).

However, we see stark differences between those who voted CPC in 2011 and the two broader markets.  On the environment, income inequality, education and affordable housing, the non-CPC target market was far more likely to rank those issues as most important than either 2011 Conservative voters or the CPC’s target market segments.

There was also a clear difference between Conservative leaning segments and the rest of the population when it came to securing retirement as a priority.  Over one in ten 2011 Conservative voters (12%)  rated securing their retirement as the top priority compared with only 4% of those respondents not likely in their target voter market.

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Evaluating the Government’s Performance: Economy, Jobs, and the Deficit

Not only do Conservative target markets have different policy priorities but they generally evaluate the government’s performance on key economic and financial measures more positively than those not in their target market.

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On economic management, seven in ten 2011 Conservative supporters (69%) approved of the federal government’s performance compared with 43% among the CPC target market and 34% among non-CPC target segments.

On job creation, government performance was weaker with six in ten 2011 Conservative supporters (59%) approving of the federal government’s performance compared with 36% among Tory-friendly geosegments and 27% among non-CPC target segments.

Although the government continues to have a net positive rating on economic management, its job creation performance is weaker, even among those who supported the Conservative Party in 2011.  This is a liability for the government.

On deficit reduction, we also see some vulnerabilities for the federal government among their target segments.  A slight majority of those who voted for the Conservatives in 2011 (56%) approve of their performance when it comes to reducing the deficit.  In contrast barely a third (33%) of their target geosegments approve.

Views of Canadian Economic News are Mixed

In February, when our last national survey was conducted, we asked respondents whether they are hearing mostly good news, bad news, or a mix of both when it comes to different aspects of the Canadian economy.  The two charts below report the results among all Canadians and among those who voted Conservative in 2011.

Generally speaking, in February 2013 few Canadians were hearing mostly good news about the economy as a whole or among certain aspects in February.  There was a lot of bad news being hear about gas prices, the price of food and consumer goods, and the job situation in the country.

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Among Conservative voters, the trends are similar to those among all Canadians.  Generally, Conservative voters are more likely to hear good news about various aspects of the economy but most are either hearing mixed news, or bad news.  This is especially true on gas prices where seven in ten respondents said they were hearing most bad news.

We should keep in mind that this does not necessarily mean that the news is going to hurt support for the Conservatives since many past supporters may continue to believe that the Conservative Party is still best at economic management.  But the results may lead to a weakening of the Conservative brand on issues of economic management among its former supporters and if the “mixed” news turns into “bad” news on the economy, the Conservatives could face leaks in its support.

Conclusion

The results presented in this analysis suggest that the Harper Conservative Government still has brand strength among its core base on economic management, but relatively high unemployment figures and a large budget deficit means that its primary competency with some of its base and target geosegments could weaken.

We know that the Conservative vote is the most stable and solid of all the major political parties.  The volatility we see in vote preference is between the non-Conservative parties.  The question that has remained since 2006 is whether one of the opposition parties can effectively coordinate non-Conservative voters into one option while picking up the support of enough swing voters who voted Conservative in 2011 to prevent the Conservatives from winning a majority government.

As the federal Liberals select their permanent leader, the political environment in the lead up to the 2015 federal election will become more clear and the volatility among “progressive” voters  will likely continue as political parties in Canada compete for the attention of their target voter segments.

By understanding the needs of different voter segments, we can better understand why the federal government and other political actors behaves the way they do.  Segmentation and targeted research helps support better strategy development for advocacy groups or organizations seeking something from the federal government.

Additionally, this analysis is the type of work that Abacus Data can conduct for your own advocacy efforts.  Strategic research leads to better strategy, messages, and proposals and makes it easier for decision makers to support your issues if they take into account the views of those most important to them: their target voter market.

The table below outlines some of the key components of the 2013 Federal Budget and which of the geodemographic segments within the Harper Government’s target market each is likely to appeal to.

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Methodology

The survey was conducted online with 1,832 respondents in English and French using an internet survey programmed and collected by Abacus Data. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from a panel of over 150,000 Canadians.  The survey was completed from February 5 to 6, 2013.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated.   The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association prohibits statements about margins of sampling error or population estimates with regard to most online panels.

The margin of error for a probability-based random sample of 1,832 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 2.3%, 19 times out of 20.

The data was weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Ontario’s population according to age, gender, education level, and region.

These questions were posed as part of the Abacus Data monthly Omnibus survey. 

The geodemographic segmentation was powered by GeoTribes and uses a respondent’s lifecycle stage and their social economic status to create 15 unique segments.  You can learn more about these segments here.