Over 200 members and guests from more than twenty countries assembled in Paris from November 7-10 for the forty-third annual meeting of the International Association of Political Consultants. The theme of the gathering was “campaigns without borders.”
A discussion of the U.S. midterm elections featured Anita Dunn, Howard Dean and Brad O’Leary. Dunn, a former White House communications director for the Obama administration, observed that there is no longer a twenty-four-seven news cycle but instead an immediate news cycle in which anyone with a cell phone and camera can be a reporter. This makes message control very hard. “Even though we received an ‘A’ on policy,” she noted of the Democratic party, “we could not control nor stay ahead of the message battle.”
O’Leary, an author and political pundit, offered a different take. “The White House thought that it had a mandate for change in the 2008 election as the press erred in congratulating Mr. Obama instead of recognizing and reporting the vast difference in money spent by the Obama campaign as compared to McCain in the campaign, particularly in North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana,” he argued. “The White House assumed incorrectly that it could enter the political fray in September 2010, as it had in
September 2008, and change the numbers.”
Dean, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, placed the election in demographic context. “2010 is the last election of the old white guy,” he said. “In 2008 more people under thirty five voted than those over sixty-five. America is a truly multi-cultural society. Many of us grew up supporting civil rights but not living civil rights. Today’s under thirty-fives live in that multicultural polyglot. In 2012, the under thirty-fives will be the under thirty-nines, and they will drive the electoral train for the foreseeable future.”
The campaigns without borders theme continued with panels on the uses of social media in elections in the Ukraine, Brazil, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister of Zimbabwe and winner of this year’s IAPC Democracy Award, gave a wondrous acceptance speech. Speakers from Turkey, Austria and the U.S. spoke on the rise of conservatism in their countries. And there was an interesting discussion of the first “presidential” debates in the United Kingdom, for which candidates from each of the three major parties consulted with American presidential debate experts.
At the close of the conference, IAPC President Tom Edmonds said, “I first joined the IAPC in the mid-90s and I have seen the organization grow and make positive changes over the last fifteen years. The IAPC has managed to retain its unique character as a relatively small organization while simultaneously attracting a new generation and staying attuned to what’s happening in the world. The IAPC has not just survived for over forty years; it has grown into a vital and relevant organization that is recognized by world leaders from every continent.
“I was particularly gratified when the President of the [French] National Assembly, Monsieur [Bernard] Accoyer, said in his greeting to the IAPC membership, ‘There is no democracy without communication; there would be no political communication without you.’”
Next year’s conference will be in Istanbul.
James Dwinell has been deputy campaign manager of Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign, editor of Campaigns & Elections and an international political consultant. He currently writes for Vermont Business Magazine.