Lessons the Tories can learn for 2015 from Obama’s victory

Iain Martin 4.30 pm

The dust is finally settling on what feels like the longest US election race in history. The media’s ‘too close to call’ narrative was fashionable and ignored the real polling data; it merely served to mobilise Obama’s dormant voters in the key seats to deny the Republicans a return to the White House. Given the obvious parallels, here are five points the Tories can learn from Obama’s victory in the campaign for a majority government in 2015.

  1. The Conservatives need to engage with ethnic minority voters

Whilst Obama got fewer votes amongst White Americans than his opponent, he held massive leads with Hispanic, Asian and Black voters. For far too long, the Tory party has relied on the notion that its social and economic policies chime most closely with the cultural values of certain ethnic groups, and that the policies alone will attract minority voters. To win in 2015, the Conservatives will need to reach out to all parts of society, to mobilise on the ground, to engage and reach areas which have previously been deemed impenetrable. The message sold must be tailored to the recipient but crucially the message must be delivered by the appropriate messenger. It is plain to see that the Tories biggest problem is still its image, the perception of being out of touch and lacking empathy. There are many within the Conservative Party who can put paid to that. It is time to start deploying them.

  1. A slick, on-the-ground, campaigning and fundraising organisation is required

Obama’s campaign team were rightly convinced that their on-the-ground organisation would betray the national polling data and produce a comfortable win. The fundraising effort was well organised, highly local and sophisticated in the tailoring of the message. Fundraising efforts surpassed all expectations, largely through adopting an innovative approach. This piece in the Telegraph highlights some of the new techniques developed and utilised.

Innovation will be key, particularly exploitation of the broadcast media, which were seen as the most important influence on the outcome of the US election. 

  1. Yes – you guessed it - elections are won in the centre ground

The Republican Party dragged the usually moderate Mitt Romney towards the right and this was fatal to their chances of election. The American dream offered by the Republicans was rejected in favour of the comfort and collectivist instincts of the Democrats. At a time where poverty and unemployment is high, the plans to repeal ObamaCare appeared heartless and out of touch. The ‘we are all in this together’ message won the day. The Conservatives must not stray from the current position and lurch towards the right; on issues of childcare, on the ECHR, protecting the International Development budget, on the need to address the climate change, the Conservatives have the correct position. To move away from that would be to undermine all of the good work Cameron has started.

Obama won with policies to address both climate change and reduce the deficit. The Tories must do the same.  The imbalanced welfare system is quite rightly being addressed by this government, but the line between being sensibly on the side of working families, and appearing heartless and inhumane must be carefully tread.  

  1. Real people vote on real issues

Listening to US voters being interviewed on the various channels, it is clear that more than ever people voted with their pockets. Gone was the previous reliance on hollow rhetoric, this election was won by the man who had the clearest plan for recovery and who could offer individual Americans hope that he can make their lives better. In saving the automotive industry and arresting the increase in unemployment, the president showed he could improve people’s lives and understand their concerns.

The Coalition’s macroeconomic policies have gone some way to begin the path to recovery. The deficit reduction plan and low interest rates have formed the basis for a more stable economy and will, in time, restore some confidence in the government. In 2015, the Conservatives must have a plan for the new economy and communicate their vision as to what it means for the lives of those they hope to attract. That means having an active industrial policy, not simply insisting that the context for growth will attract growth on its own, it means a coherent energy policy, it means a plan for keeping fuel duty low, it means a comprehensive rebalancing of taxation and further increases in the lowest tax threshold. Each and every campaign message should pass the ‘what it means for you’ test.   

  1. Women are the key to the election in 2015

Obama won the women’s vote. The polls show that Cameron has some way to go to regain the votes of women who have deserted him in recent years. Policies such as the child benefit cut, together with some unnecessary presentational issues have had an impact on Cameron’s standing amongst women. David Cameron must reconnect and demonstrate that he understands women’s concerns over equal pay, over imbalanced maternity/paternity provision, childcare and early intervention in order to win back trust. 

Above all, Obama’s victory demonstrates that it is possible for David Cameron and the Conservatives to win in 2015. Voters have long memories and the anger/lack of forgiveness which prevented a Republican return will pose a similar problem for the Labour Party.

Strong growth and a positive message will seal the deal.