Susan Delacourt tut-tutting in The Star:
Soldiers, hockey gear and race cars are not just the stuff of young boys' wish lists any more -- they're also symbols that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is deliberately choosing to embrace.
What's puzzling some observers, however, is how all this heavily male symbolism, mixed with an aggressive, disciplinary governing style, is going to help the Conservatives get more votes in the next election, especially from women.
"It's definitely not a growth strategy. It's the opposite of a growth strategy," says pollster Nik Nanos, who says all this macho posturing may be part of the reason the federal Conservatives are stalled in the public-opinion surveys conducted in the past few months.
"It's reinforcing stereotypes that they're trying to get rid of -- which is that the Conservatives appeal to a very narrow group of voters that tend to be very male and right-wing. ... They're creating their own glass ceiling."
Nanos was interviewed in the wake of a weekend photo opportunity by Conservatives in which a NASCAR race vehicle -- owned and driven by Pierre Bourque, a popular Internet news blogger -- was emblazoned with the Tory logo. Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, whose husband, Doug, is in charge of the next election campaign for the Tories, bluntly stated the strategy behind the NASCAR appeal.
Finley told a newspaper interviewer that NASCAR fans are "our kind of people. They're hard-working families, they're taxpayers who play by the rules. And those are the people that we're targeting."
I'm sure this will come as a shock to the Star newsroom, but NASCAR's administrators aren't just a bunch of cornball good ol' boys, even if they often play that role on TV. They've built NASCAR into one of the most professional, successful organizations in sports:
After moving far beyond its Southern roots years ago, NASCAR continues to soar in nationwide popularity and is on the verge of spreading to an even broader, international audience.
NASCAR, once derided as a passion mostly for "rednecks," is now a sophisticated, multibillion-dollar enterprise that claims about 75 million fans -- including many of pop culture's glitterati -- and ranks among the nation's most popular sports in attendance and television viewership.
If they've determined that there's a market in Canada for their product, then I'd be inclined to believe them. And one demographic that they've exhaustively researched and targeted is women:
These five [women] are not an anomaly in the fast, high-octane world of NASCAR, where 42% of the fans are women, according to an ESPN Sports Poll compiled during the last 12 months from phone interviews with Americans 12 and older. That's up from 36% in 1995.
Nielsen Media Research figures from 2003 show NASCAR led the NFL and major league baseball in percentage of female viewers on broadcast networks. Women were 35% of the total audience for NASCAR, two percentage points more female viewers than for the NFL and MLB.
Tim Buckman, spokesman for Fox Sports, says the fastest growing segment of the television audience for the 2004 Nextel Cup Series on Fox is women 18-34. Their numbers are up 19% from this time last year. The next fastest growing segment: women 18-24, up 17%.
Roger VanDerSnick, NASCAR's managing director of brands and consumer marketing, credits the sport's wholesome atmosphere for attracting women to stock car racing. "It is a family-run sport. Families participate in the sport," VanDerSnick says.
"Our drivers are terrific role models that families and moms and children enjoy rooting for."
Another factor that seems to have escaped the notice of the doctrinaire feminists in the press and politics is that motor sports is one of the few -- maybe the only -- sports that allow men and women to compete against each other on the basis of merit.
Not that the ingrates remember the battlin' battleaxes who made this all possible. IndyCar driver Danica Patrick:
NEWSWEEK: Are you the Gloria Steinem of racing?
PATRICK: The what? I don't even know who that is. Is that bad?
Heh. She probably doesn't know who Susan Delacourt is, either.