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.

Ask The Globe: Your questions on citizenship, C-51 and refugees

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

Ben asks: #AskTheGlobe Can the government legally revoke someones Canadian citizenship? #MunkDebate

and Sarah asks: What conditions can a Canadian loose their citizenship, residency, or voting rights? Do refugees hafta pay interest? #AskTheGlobe

Let’s deal with these two together.

First, yes, the government can legally revoke citizenship if it was obtained fraudulently. The Conservatives also added another policy, which is that dual nationals can potentially lose their citizenship if convicted of terrorism or treason crimes. Depending on the circumstances, someone whose citizenship was revoked may be removed from the country.

On voting, the Conservatives did change the eligibility to vote for Canadian expats living abroad. Generally they lose their right to vote after five years, which Donald Sutherland was not very happy about.

Chris asks: Did Tom Mulcair really say different things about repealing C51? #AskTheGlobe

The NDP has never supported Bill C-51, the Anti-Terror Act. The New Democrats voted against the bill, which was supported by the Conservatives and Liberals. However, in interviews earlier in the year, leader Thomas Mulcair did change his tone. In February, Mr. Mulcair said he wouldn’t commit to repealing the bill if elected, though his party would definitely change it. Weeks later, in March, Mr. Mulcair committed to repealing the entire law.

Myles asks: Harper says ours response has been generous- is that true compared to past refugee crises? #MunkDebate #asktheglobe #futurevoter

It depends on what past refugee crises we’re comparing it to. In terms of numbers and speed of access for refugees, it’s much lower than Vietnam (when Joe Clark raised the target to 60,000 refugees). Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau at the Munk Debate brought up comparisons with Vietnam to accuse Harper of being stingy. What sets Syria apart from Vietnam is the rules Stephen Harper introduced about refugees needing their status approved by UNHCR or a third country, a rule that didn’t exist for the Vietnamese (and which the Kurdi family blames for the events leading to Alan’s death off the Turkish coast). If we’re comparing Syria with the Second World War, though – when we famously turned away a boatload of Jewish refugees in 1939, and were pretty hostile to Jewish refugees even during the war – our current response looks more generous. (Doug Saunders and Sean Fine have done really good historical analyses of Vietnam, the Second World War and our response to the Hungarian refugee crisis in the 1950s).

Ask The Globe: What happens if two parties tie for the most seats?

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

Christopher Stasiuk asks: If two parties tie for first with the most seats in the federal election, who governs? Who is the PM? #asktheglobe

According to Wednesday’s Nanos numbers the Liberals and Conservatives are locked in a dead heat atop the polls. Which makes Christopher’s question a timely one.

Digital politics editor Chris Hannay explains the process.

The incumbent always gets first crack at forming government. (Usually, if the incumbent has not won the most seats after an election, they decline.) If the incumbent is one of the tied parties and they have a Speech from the Throne, and it gets defeated by the other parties, they have to go to Governor-General David Johnston and declare that they don’t have the confidence of the House.

The Governor-General can then decide whether to call an election or let another party have a chance at governing.

If an election has just happened, typically the Governor-General is expected to let another party have a chance to form the government so as not to waste voters’ times. (This happened in 1926)

If the second-place party, or the other party that was tied, can survive a confidence vote with other parties’ support, then they’re in government now.

This is essentially what happened in Ontario in 1985.

This is what students want to ask Harper, Mulcair, Trudeau and May

Would you allow more immigrants to come to Canada? How can we reduce the use of fossil fuels? How would Canada change under your leadership?

These are questions for federal party leaders, but no, they are not from the latest debate.

These queries come from elementary and secondary students across Canada.

The young Canadians are posing these questions to Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May through Student Vote, a project of the nonpartisan Civix, which aims to engage youth in our democratic process.

Student Vote will be running a parallel election in more than 6,000 schools across Canada just before the real vote on Oct. 19. (Click here to register your school — there’s only a few days left before the deadline.)

Aside from the mock election, Student Vote also runs democracy bootcamps for teachers and provides educational materials. The Globe and Mail is a media partner with Student Vote. Here’s The Globe’s Jane Taber in a Civix video explaining how political advertising works:

Watch for the leaders’ responses in the coming weeks.