The federal election campaign has started. Although we all knew it was coming, the road to the polls is noticeably longer this time around.
The more than two-month campaign length could be a game-changer for political strategy, but runs the risk of losing voters’ interest said one political expert.
“We are met with one of the most interesting elections in modern Canadian political history,” said David Black, a Royal Roads associate professor with a Ph.D. in social and political thought. “There’s simply more room for things to happen.”
Black said roughly 40 per cent of eligible voters have already decided what party to vote for. The remaining 60 per cent are referred to as “low-information voters,” a term Black stressed is not meant as an insult, but simply refers to voters who do not actively follow the political climate.
This group is also often referred to as the swing vote and they can be what makes an election interesting, he said.
Typically, such voters don’t start paying attention to the campaign until the last few weeks and are especially persuadable by television advertising. However, he said, no one knows how these individuals will react to this unprecedented length of campaign. Black wondered if they would burn out because of the length.
“What we have here is a great experiment in Canadian democracy,” he said.
Low-information voters will be drawn out to vote in good elections. The more exciting, controversial, or close an election feels, the more likely these swing voters will cast their ballot. They want to feel like their vote made a difference and they voted for the winner, Black said.
The West Shore is a prime example of an area that could potentially draw out those voters.
“You’ve got a mobile population who typically, for good reason, don’t vote with the same frequency because they’re not as embedded in the neighbourhoods,” he said, adding the area’s two ridings have been redrawn, which will make for great races.
“The political geography of the Island is so interesting, because every party has enjoyed power here,” he said. “I don’t think that there is a political geography or a region in the country that is both so small in terms of square miles, and yet so full of political variety, so full of political surprises.”
Paul Holmes, social media guru and Sooke resident, co-hosts a regular podcast (johnpaulandmic.ca) on business and politics.
“It’s going to be a tough one to predict,” he said, noting that the West Shore is an interesting area, given its younger (under-50) demographic. “The younger you are, the less likely you are to vote.”
He doesn’t see a galvanizing issue in this election that could draw out those voters, at least not yet. “I guess I’m a little bit cynical.”
Holmes doesn’t expect many of the local candidates to drift too far from their party’s script. And he doesn’t believe most Canadians will start evaluating the issues and considering what kind of Canada they want to see during this election because of all of the hostility.
“I think it will be the negative campaign to end all negative campaigns,” he said. “I think it’s going to get nasty.”
He’s already sick of the mud-slinging being done on the national level, but wasn’t sure if it would trickle down to the local level. “If that is the gist of the campaign and no one manages to get their message out, we could see voter turnout fall.”
Long-term voter fatigue could also negatively affect voter turnout on the West Shore, he said, citing evidence on social media.
Holmes has already seen a number of people “unfriending” each other on sites like Facebook because they don’t agree with, or are tired of others’ political rants. He suggests “muting” those Facebook friends until after the election to preserve friendships.
Voter fatigue could be a reality by the end of the 11-week (78 days) marathon of a campaign that will see Canadians cast their ballots on Oct. 19. It is the longest election period since the late 19th century – almost twice as long as the typical five- or six-week campaign.
Unlike shorter campaigns, which are “very typical, everyone knows the rules,” Black said, this year’s campaign will require different political strategies.
The extended timeline might also play into a Conservative advantage, said Black, allowing them to make full use of their hefty campaign war chest, which he said was the largest in Canadian political history, and something that will come in handy in the final sprint to the polls.
While there are a number of ways for parties to spend their war chest, Black outlined two general categories, ground and air. He said the real expense is in television advertising (air), where many voters are swayed leading up to an election.
Holmes said money would have less of a deciding factor in the local ridings, as a rising number of residents no longer have cable. “I don’t think it’s as important as the last election or the one before.”
He said a deciding factor in the local campaign would be the ground game, or the “get out and vote” campaign.
“I think the chance of everyone getting a knock on their door has gone up considerably,” Holmes said.
He added that traditionally the NDP has run a very strong ground game and that style of campaigning could make or break the race for the Green Party.
Royal Roads University associate professor David Black, who also holds a Ph.D. in social and political thought, said several factors will influence the results of this election campaign besides its unprecedented length, and the depth of money the parties are bringing to the fight.
This is a tight race between the three top parties, potentially any of whom could win a minority government, he said, adding the possibility of any party winning a majority is highly unlikely. A minority outcome in itself could be a very unique situation of potential alliances and changes in strategies, said Black.
Third-party groups, or political action groups (PACs) have been more active than ever leading up to the election call, he said, and these organizations are wielding more influence as they begin to look more like their American counterparts.
The New Democrats and the Conservatives are both in very rare positions. With the NDP arguably closer to power than ever, Black said, “This creates a very interesting story… The political norm is being opened up.”
The Conservatives are in the unique situation of seeking a rare fourth mandate.
When asked whether the extra expense of the longer election would weigh on voters’ decisions, Black didn’t think so. “I think it’s a sound bite.” He said most Canadians accept that elections cost a lot of money, and “that’s the kind of thing that gets quickly lost.”
He thinks Canadians will be more concerned about evaluating the state of the economy under the Conservatives, and whether the Canada they have created is a place they can identify with.
“Is this the kind of Canada that people like and want or do they prefer to turn the page on it?”
It’s not the type of question that gets asked after one mandate, he said, but you certainly see it after three.