• Primary Differences
Suffolk Professor and Fulbright Scholar Ken Cosgrove, PhD, lectures at the University of Alberta


As the US presidential primary race heats up, Suffolk government professor and New Hampshire voter Ken Cosgrove is totally immersed in analyzing political communication – in Canada. Strange, eh?

Cosgrove is spending the fall semester as a Fulbright scholar and researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. The role is providing him with an unusually rich opportunity for studying political discourse on both sides of the border.

Changes in latitude, changes in attitude

Cosgrove notes distinct differences in successful communication styles between American and Canadian pols.

“Americans will put up with things Canadians won’t,” Cosgrove claims. “Our political discourse is generally much louder and more negative– highlighting the other candidate’s flaws – whereas Canadians tend to focus on their own candidate’s strengths and accomplishments.”

Cosgrove cites the infamous 1993 “face” ad run by the Canadian Progressive Conservative party, which used close-ups of candidate Jean Chretien’s face to highlight his facial paralysis.

The backlash to this negative ad was enormous, and the Progressive Conservatives went on to lose the national election by a wide margin. In the US, personal attack ads are more common and more effective.

Agree on authenticity

What is universally appealing, according to Cosgrove, is presenting voters with an authentic candidate.

“People don’t like phonies. That’s why Mitt Romney is having trouble ‘sealing the deal’ right now – he hasn’t been able to articulate his core beliefs yet in a way that resonates with voters,” explains Cosgrove.

By contrast, Cosgrove recently met with staffers in Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s office. Nenshi is Canada’s first Muslim mayor, and that fact coupled with his highly effective use of social media as a political communication tool make his campaign quite interesting to study. This strategy resonated with young voters in particular, who helped carry the relative unknown to victory in 2010.

“What struck me most is how authentic this strategy was. I saw Nenshi tweeting in the hallway of the Mayor’s Office. His staff said it’s impossible to separate him from his blackberry. He’s involved and engaged, and his campaign showcased who he was instead of trying to create an image for him. This is definitely something other campaigns – both in Canada and in the US – can learn from and emulate.”

Returning home

Cosgrove will soon return to New Hampshire to begin writing a comparative analysis of political communication and marketing in Canada and the US. The book – scheduled for publication in 2013 – will be one of the first of its kind to explore local and state/provincial campaigns in addition to national contests.

As his semester in Ottawa draws to a close, Cosgrove reflects on the immense honor afforded to him by Fulbright Canada:

“David Jacobson, the US Ambassador, impressed upon us the responsibility of our positions. We were to be cultural ambassadors as well as visiting academics. I have great reverence for this honor, and have striven each day to represent my country well. The incredible support provided by Fulbright Canada and my host institution, Carleton University, have enabled me to move beyond words to teach, learn from, and engage with the Canadian people.”

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