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jeffrey simpson

The Conservative campaign, still looking for liftoff, will focus until voting day on the three Ts: trade, Trudeau and terror. The three Ts will be aimed in particular at older voters and backed by a television advertising campaign the likes of which Canadians have never seen.

Each "T" speaks to a wider Conservative message. Trade, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, is about managing the economy, which the Tories will insist they do best. Trudeau is about the Liberal Party's leader, whose inexperience Conservatives will contrast with the experience of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Terror is about keeping the country not just safe from foreign threats – Islamic jihadis – but from domestic threats to social harmony from women wearing niqabs.

The three Ts will be tied together by fear: of other parties messing up the economy, of being governed by Justin Trudeau and of practices of the "other," as in the case of niqab-wearers. The three Ts will be driven home by a bombardment of television advertising.

The principal reason for the longest campaign since 1874, after all, is the Conservatives' money advantage. They have more of it than the other parties. The longer the campaign goes on, the more the parties can spend. Brace yourselves for the Conservatives' late-campaign bombardment.

In any election, those with the least interest and lowest amount of basic information about issues make up their minds at the very end, if they vote at all. Conservative voters also have lower levels of formal education than supporters of the other parties.

Television advertising is mostly directed at knowledge-challenged, marginally interested voters. Fear – of change, of the "other," of threats – can be a powerful motivator for these groups, which is why the Conservatives will use fear extensively as the campaign draws to a close.

The Conservatives have another advantage beyond money – an advantage that loose reporting of political polls invariably misses. Conservative voters, the party believes and political science agrees, will turn out in larger numbers than supporters of the other parties.

Higher turnout revolves around age and commitment. Conservatives are by far the strongest party among seniors and the weakest for people under 35. Older voters, happily for the Tories, go to the polls in much higher numbers than do those under 35.

Imagine, say, that a media story reports an opinion poll showing the Conservatives and Liberals tied at 33 per cent. The poll says nothing about turnout. If three-quarters of Conservatives vote but only two-thirds of Liberals do in this hypothetical situation, the Conservatives will wind up ahead.

The party has spent a lot of time and money constructing a database that tells it where Conservative supporters are, what motivates them and how to get them to vote. Tories are counting on this knowledge to pull out voters on Oct. 19.

Conservative supporters are the most committed to their party. Asked by polling firms whether they have a second choice, almost half reply that they have none. It's a Conservative vote or nothing for them. By contrast, only 10 per cent to 5 per cent of New Democratic or Liberal supporters report no second choice.

The flip side of the Conservatives' strong, Tory-or-nothing base, is limited growth potential. They just aren't going to swing many committed New Democrats or Liberals. So they have to fish among loosely committed voters, those who are genuinely undecided, and those who won't follow politics until the last days of the campaign, if at all. The Conservative campaign also absolutely has to bring back some supporters from the last campaign who have drifted away.

For all these groups, Conservatives have to scare people about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau whom they will say wants pot in the schools, has never run a candy store, flip-flops on issues and just "isn't ready." The subtext will be: You might not like Stephen Harper, but you know where he's coming from and he has experience the other guy lacks.

Witness to which, the Conservatives will insist, are the trade deals the government has negotiated, including this week's TPP, a nice political issue that has the Liberals making silly arguments about transparency (trade deals are never negotiated in public); and the NDP tying itself not to the wider public interest but to some nervous auto firms and unions, and embracing supply-managed farmers who will be exorbitantly compensated by Canadian taxpayers.

And, the Conservatives will not so subtly suggest, don't forget the niqab, part of some "foreign" practice favoured by people from countries that breed terrorists, the final "T."