The immigrant vote has long been an apparently insoluble conundrum for the GOP. We've discussed Latinos, many of whom, despite holding conservative views, voted for Obama over McCain by a margin of more than two-to-one in 2008. We've also talked about how closely Asians are aligned with Republicans on a number of issues, but nevertheless vote Democrat (62% of the Asian vote went to Obama in 2008).
Over the past decade, Canada's Tories have faced a similar challenge in trying to figure out how to appeal to the large and growing immigrant voter bloc in some of the country's most populated (and therefore most crucial for an electoral victory) metropolitan areas. One welcome surprise that emerged from Canada's recent electoral shakeup is the degree of success that Conservatives achieved among immigrant voters. Here's how they did it:
- Conservatives established connections with immigrant voters
In one day during the 2011 election campaign, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney attended 15 different chai parties hosted by Indo-Canadian voters in Brampton West, Ont. That’s just a snapshot of his epic cross-Canada campaigning, but it’s indicative of the stamina and persistence of the Conservative point man for ethnic communities.
He and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have transformed their party from one that was perceived as hostile to new Canadians to one that is now home to a great many immigrant voters and Members of Parliament.
- Conservatives listened to and engaged with the leaders of immigrant communities in order to create a "constituency of askers"
The transformation of the Conservative party began in 2006 when Mr. Kenney embarked on a cross-country listening tour, engaging ethnic community leaders who previously felt repelled by the party. He asked what government could do for them. Then he initiated a series of symbolic gestures designed to build relationships, such as the apology for the Chinese Head Tax and cutting the immigrant landing fee.
A Conservative source said there was a deliberate strategy to deliver on the issues that mattered to these communities, but not instantly. That way they could create a constituency of “askers,” motivated leaders who could be converted to supporters.
- Conservatives communicated their core platform in the native tongues of their target immigrant voters
“People tend to forget that the main appeal isn’t on … community-specific issues. It’s based on the core platform,” Mr. Kenney said. “If you look at the ads we ran in Mandarin, Punjabi and Cantonese, it’s exactly that. Vote your values.”
And the results?
The Conservative majority was won primarily in the suburban ridings of the 905 area code and in the City of Toronto. Of the 18 seats they gained in that region, 14 are more than 45 per cent immigrant, and most would not long ago have been considered un-winnable for the Conservatives.
...The party also swept all four ridings in Brampton, which have large South Asian populations.
Go out and meet constituents from immigrant communities? Listen to their concerns? Produce a few targeted ads in the native languages of immigrant constituencies? It all sounds so simple, so trite, so...corny. But could it work for the GOP?