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Three observations from the latest Twitterstorm

Social media scandals are silly, almost by definition. Canada’s latest example follows suit.

By now, you’ve seen the fallout. But how did we get here?

It all started when University of Ottawa Amir Attaran posted the tweet below:

I have three thoughts.

1. No, he doesn’t speak for the Liberal Party.

In the social media era, major political parties live in constant fear of (some of) their supporters. If one of them gets noticed saying something dumb/wrong/offensive/threatening… chances are the party will have to wear it.

Attaran isn’t an MP, candidate, or staff member – so I am sympathetic to the argument that the Liberals shouldn’t have to answer for a tweet from (in effect) a random citizen. But…

2. That said, it’s a very on-brand Liberal Party mistake.

I’ve written before about “brand mistakes” – unique own goals that Canada’s respective political parties tend to make.

Only one party would get in trouble for a “lake of fire”; another for “entitled to my entitlements.” You could argue the NDP or Greens might be equally likely to suffer a 9-11 truther, but, for example, a Nicholas Maduro apologist? Only someone who supports the NDP.

In just nine words, Attaran managed to convey entitlement, smugness, and snobbery – in a way, it’s an impressive feat of copywriting. Unfortunately, it could only have been a Liberal mistake.

3. It’s a selective and even inaccurate interpretation.

The worst part? It’s just a bad take. Here are the numbers in question:

Yes, Conservatives enjoy a lead among voters with a high school degree or less – but it’s still substantially less than half. A randomly chosen Canadian with a high school diploma (or less) is more likely to vote other than Conservative.

Put another way: for those who supported a proposed Liberal/NDP/Bloc takedown of a Conservative minority government in 2008 – that coalition would have commanded an outright majority of supporters with no post-secondary education. Is that a bad thing? Why?

Among voters with a college or Bachelor’s degree, the Liberals and Conservatives are essentially in a dead heat.

The biggest difference is among Canadians with a post-graduate degree – a slight overall majority prefer the Liberals.

Look: any time a majority of a given demographic supports a party, that’s a good thing for that party. Liberals can justifiably be happy about this, just like Conservatives can be pleased about dominating western Canada, or the NDP can feel good about support in public sector unions.

And there was a way to crow about this: it’s two paragraphs above. “A majority of Canadians with a post-graduate degree prefer the Liberals.” See? Much less offensive. And completely defensible.

But if you’re going to turn it into a negative – “uneducated people vote Conservative” – isn’t it even much more damning of the NDP and Greens? The worst thing you can say about Conservative voters here is they’re either first or second in each education demographic – and the one where they’re a most distant second? The one with the fewest people.

Now, let’s all move on – until the next Twitterstorm.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca