In Canada, we are heading to the polls next month for our fourth election in the past seven years. The news of this is greeted by most people on the street with frustration and dismay that our federal politicians cannot work together for the good of the country. This led me to think about the “politician” brand…and I think it’s in serious trouble.
In an earlier blog post, I suggested playing the word association game with your brand. What would happen if we did that with the word “politician”? What comes to mind when you hear that word? For many people in Canada, it evokes descriptions like:
- Will tell you whatever you want to hear for short-term gains
- Manipulates the truth
- Only concerned about getting and holding power
Do the same exercise with “used car salesman” and you’ll probably get more positive results.
The sad thing is that there are some politicians who do actually have strong principles and morals, and sincerely run for office to do their best to serve their country. However, they are largely invisible to the public eye because they’re overshadowed by today’s typical politicians, many of whom are “lifers” (check out Jeffrey Simpson’s great column on this).
Broken promises, scandals, negative attack ads, combative demeanor in the House of Commons, etc. have left Canadians with a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to politics and politicians. Many pundits would argue that when that happens, we have the democratic right to vote the culprits out. The problem is that the public sees most politicians in this light and feels that they don’t have a reasonable alternative. For an increasing number of Canadians, their displeasure is expressed by not showing up to vote.
In the new book, The High Road, by Terry Fallis, the hero of the story, Angus McLintock, runs a campaign for office by refusing to attack his political opponents, standing on moral high ground, and focusing solely on the issues that are most important to the country. The approach is a breath of fresh air and Angus becomes widely popular as a result.
If the “politician” brand is going to turn around, we’ll need more politicians that are cut from the Angus McLintock cloth. The public wants representatives who take stands on issues because of their personal convictions, rather than political ambitions. The public wants representatives who make promises because they fully intend to keep them, not because the promise will get them elected. The public wants representatives who say what they believe to be right and truthful, not what the pollsters and spin doctors tell them will be politically expedient. The public wants representatives who work together for the national good, rather than slamming every stance of the opposing side just because of their political stripe.
Can the “politician” brand become positive again? Perhaps, but it will take a monumental shift by the same people who are responsible for the current sad state of the brand.