Elections Are Pay-to-Play. But Can You Also Pay to Win?

3 minute read

A few weeks ago, Elections Canada revealed that the Conservatives had nearly lapped the Liberals in fundraising for this year with $13.6 million accumulated so far compared to $6.8 million brought in by the Liberals in 2021. While these numbers are significant for the party, the challenge now is to figure out how and when to best spend this money to make the greatest impact during the election.

Recent polls indicate that Erin O’Toole has a lot of work to do in this election to introduce himself to voters and raise his profile. With only a few days since the start of the election, the Conservatives are clearly not afraid to use their war chest to raise O’Toole’s profile with new ads being promoted on tv, radio and social media. The Conservatives also made the decision to publish an attack ad on the Liberals, which seems to have backfired already. The ‘‘Willy Wonka’’ themed ad ridiculing Trudeau as a bratty character from the classic movie drew plenty of criticism from their own party members, with some calling it ‘’tasteless, appalling, and even dumb’’. While the controversial video received over 1 million social media views, it did overshadow the launch of the party’s more traditional and very well-crafted campaign advertising.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have also chosen to air TV ads in both official languages as part of a broader digital engagement strategy. Trudeau’s election ads usually seek to reinforce a positive, optimistic and hopeful tone. In fact, the latest ad, titled ‘Relentless’ and hit the airwaves this week, showcases Trudeau engaging Canadians during the pandemic outbreak and touting his government’s leadership in handling the pandemic. 

For the other political parties that have raised less money throughout the year, namely the NDP ($3.1 million) and the Greens ($1.3 million), the question is – do they spend their money advertising on expensive TV spots or on digital media platforms which tend to be more budget-friendly. Over the past years, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has amassed a large number of followers on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram – and he’s now using a ‘texting community’ tactic to send personalized messages to his followers and engage with them during the election. The NDP has also put together a ‘digital mobilization team’ for the campaign to help bring young voters into the NDP movement. The challenge for Jagmeet however is that he will need to find a way to motivate his social media followers to come out and vote for his party on election day.

All in all, capturing the true impact of money spent on political ads during election campaigns can vary from one campaign to another. In a pandemic election, efforts aimed at increasing voter turnout may need to be different this time and parties may increasingly rely on robust voter databases to employ innovative digital tactics to mobilize voters. These tactics also require additional resources, elevating the importance of these choices facing campaign teams: how and when to deploy campaign assets to connect with and mobilize voters. Keep your eyes and ears tuned to your screens and airwaves for hints for how and where each party is choosing to target potential supporters during Canada’s first pandemic election.

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