Why you probably haven’t heard from your local candidate

Today is the day campaign advertising starts being allowed. If you start from the premise that an engaged electorate is an inherently good thing, the end of the blackout should probably be considered a welcome development – because it looks like a lot of us aren’t going to have much interaction with parties or candidates any other way.

As part of a generally fascinating survey of voters – seriously, if you’re interested in knowing more about the electorate, the whole thing merits a look – Abacus Data asked respondents to indicate all the parties or candidates that had contacted them since the election started.

Fully 71 per cent indicated there had been no contact whatsoever. The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives had managed to reach 15 per cent of voters each; the New Democrats only 10 per cent.

The survey, through an online panel of 2,000 eligible voters, was taken from May 14-16 – so 12-14 days after the campaign unofficially began. It’s fair to assume that most local campaigns took a few days to get off the ground, so candidates and their parties will probably be getting to voters at a better clip going forward.  But they’ll also probably be re-engaging with target voters rather than only speaking to new ones, so it’s entirely possible that no party will make direct contact – we’re talking not just in person, but by phone, e-mail, social media, or just a flyer left at the door – with even half the electorate.

There’s not a great deal of research, to my knowledge, on precisely how much of that sort of interaction was achieved in past campaigns in this province or country. But talk to people working on the ground in this one, and you’ll get the sense that voter outreach is a lot harder than it used to be.

A pair of phenomena help explain why that is. Fewer and fewer of us have home phones, and those who do tend to have call display, so one of the prime points of contact just isn’t very effective anymore. That makes door-to-door canvassing more important than it was a decade or two ago, but the second change is that volunteerism is down – which means most local campaigns can’t get to as many doors as they used to, either.

The parties are responding to new realities by slowly getting more sophisticated in their outreach efforts. That means trying to find new ways to reach us, including an overdue push to figure out how to better use online communication for that. It also means using previous voter-identification and demographic data to try to only go to the doors where they’ll get maximum bang for their buck – those where there are likely to be voters amenable to persuasion efforts, or (more often) where likely supporters can be identified and then encouraged to vote.

Of course, if they use that data unwisely or can’t even reach the relatively narrow audiences they’re targeting, those who might be open to vote for them might never even properly hear their case. And fewer and fewer voters are going to directly hear from all the parties at once.

Which is to say, don’t take too much offence to what you’ll see during commercial breaks of hockey games or prime-time dramas the next three weeks. With time, as parties continue to shift to online advertising or radio spots that  can more easily be customized, the TV ads will be in shorter supply. For now, they might be the only way many Ontarians will hear from all the parties vying for their votes.

Where do voters get their politics news? TV and the Internet, mostly

In this new digital age, how do you reach voters? Increasingly, parties need to go online. But for now TV is still king.

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Abacus conducted the survey by talking to 2,002 Canadians over the age of 18 through a mix of online panels and live telephone interviews. The data were demographically weighted in line with the general population, and the margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The poll was conducted in January and February of this year.

Ask The Globe: Do we, as PM Harper has stated, have the cleanest electricity grid in Canada?

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Globe reader Greg Bennett asks: Do we, as PM Harper has stated, have the cleanest electricity grid in Canada?

Energy reporter Shawn McCarthy says yes – it’s true. But the answer is a little more complicated:

Conservatives’ attacks on Mulcair not too effective, survey suggests

As explained in today’s story, new survey data from Innovative Research Group suggests the Liberals are having some success with advertising rebutting Conservative attacks against Justin Trudeau. But of course, they wouldn’t need to do so if those attacks hadn’t been effective in branding the Liberal Leader as a “not ready” lightweight to begin with.

To the much more limited extent that the Tories are going after NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, it appears they’re struggling to find an angle that’s similarly effective.

In the same early-August  survey in which it found the Liberals’ new ad has a significant impact on those who see it, the polling company also tested a pair of anti-Mulcair Conservative ads. Both use the same “job interview” format as the ones against Mr. Trudeau, but the attempts to cast Mr. Mulcair as an opportunistic career politician seemed to have more limited effect.

In fact, when Innovative Research screened the first of those spots (above) – asking respondents a series of questions both before and after they saw it – it found no statistically significant impact on either voting intentions or impressions of Mr. Mulcair relative to the other party leaders.

The second ad, which is slightly more focused on alleging Mr. Mulcair has wasted taxpayers’ money and less so on using his longevity in politics and his past as a (Quebec) Liberal to suggest he’s an opportunist, proved somewhat more effective. Among respondents who hadn’t seen it before, support for the NDP went down by five percentage points after they saw it, although it’s not clear whether that went to the Tories or the Liberals. And the share of respondents who chose Mr. Mulcair as the leader who most “cares about people like me” went down by seven points.

While significant, neither of those hits is huge when an ad is viewed in isolation. And on other perceptions of leaders’ qualities, such as competence and who cares most about the middle class, there was again no clear impact.

Considering how little these two ads have been airing so far, it’s possible the Tories aren’t using their best stuff against the NDP yet. But it’s worth remembering that, even with Mr. Trudeau, they spent a while running spots that didn’t really work before they hit their target. If they decide before this campaign is over to make Mr. Mulcair their main target, they’ll have a much smaller window to get it right.

(Full methodology for Innovative Research’s surveys are available from its website.)