How parties are encouraging their supporters to vote

On voting day, political parties have just one goal: get their supporters to the polls.

Here’s a sampling of the e-mails Ontario parties have been sending today to supporters.

Ontario Liberals

It’s Election Day in Ontario.

We’ve campaigned hard for the last 36 days on the belief that government can be a force for good in people’s lives and that with the right team, we can move Ontario forward.

[Supporter name], you are a part of that Ontario Liberal team.

You’ve been right next to me every step of the way. And before you head out today to get out our vote, I want you to know that none of this would be possible without you. I’m so grateful for all that you’ve put into this campaign.

We’ve made our case to the people of Ontario. But now it’s up to you.

Every vote you pull today is one vote closer to victory. In a race this tight, one vote really could be the difference. We’re counting on you to help put us over the top. I believe we can do it.

I can’t think of a better team to get it done. We have the best ground team in the province. And I could not be more proud of you.

Now, let’s show our opposition how it’s done.



Progressive Conservatives

We’re hours away from polls opening tomorrow morning, and I wanted to describe the lay of the land for you:

1.   Polls have us closer to winning than we’ve been since 1999.

2.   The Liberals and their special interest allies are going to extremes trying to cling to power.

3.   Pollsters and pundits have called this election too close to call and one of the tightest races in Ontario’s history, but say our supporters are the most motivated to win.

We’ve seen the Liberals and their special interest union allies attack Tim Hudak and our Million Jobs Plan with negative TV ads, smear campaigns, offensive literature, even flat out lies and mistruths.

They are desperate to maintain their grasp on power so they can keep your taxes going up for THEIR benefit.

The truth is that they will do anything tomorrow to keep their costly stranglehold on government. It’s simple: if the Liberals win, taxpayers lose.

But you don’t have to listen to Kathleen Wynne’s fearmongering. You can make up your own mind with this simple question: Are you better off after 11 years of the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals?

Tomorrow, your vote will matter more than it has for the last 15 years.

Take a minute tonight and commit to vote tomorrow for a better future for Ontario.

It’s going to be a tight race, but we can rise above Kathleen Wynne’s message of negativity and get Ontario working better.

Have a plan, commit to vote, and help us bring hope to Ontario.

Ian Robertson
Ontario PC Campaign Manager

New Democrats

Friend —
I wanted to be the first to share this with you.
A new Ipsos-Reid poll released minutes ago shows that New Democrats have momentum all over Ontario.

This poll shows that in every community in Ontario, you vote New Democrat to stop Tim Hudak.
Polls open in just fifteen-and-a-half hours.
Please spread the word: Facebook and Twitter  
And forward this email to a friend or two.
Together, we can do this.
Andrea Horwath, Leader
Ontario’s New Democrats

Unions’ attacks on Hudak weren’t quite what the Tories expected

Only a few weeks ago, Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives were bracing themselves – and trying to brace the public – for a barrage of attack ads from the union group Working Families Coalition.

As it turns out, while the Tories were entirely right to fear an onslaught from organized labour, they were a bit off in predicting where it would come from.

Working Families has indeed been running ads, but the organization has been less of a factor than in elections past. Whatever one thinks of spots like this one, the buys for them just don’t seem to have been as big as in other campaigns (and the lead-ups to them), including 2011’s.

But if the coalition has been relatively quiet, individual unions have more than stepped in to make up for it. In the three weeks between an early-campaign advertising blackout and another one that will be imposed on Wednesday, it’s been hard to turn on the TV without seeing ads like this one, from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation:

Meanwhile, on many radio stations, pretty much every commercial break has included ads like this one from the Ontario Nurses’ Association:

It’s hard to say precisely why unions have gone it alone more than previously. Working Families has always been a bit of an unwieldy group with plenty of potential fault lines, including between public- and private-sector unions, and it’s possible they just had their own ideas of how to go about things. As much as anything, it seems to be that with Mr. Hudak running on an agenda much more threatening to them than the one he campaigned on last time, unions wanted to be more hands-on.

And maybe they figured that going directly to voters as teachers, nurses or other generally well-liked professions would be more effective than as part of an amorphous coalition that the Tories have spent a lot of time trying to discredit.

Whatever the case, the way it’s played out has rendered pre-emptive efforts like the one above somewhat useless. But particularly with the likes of the Ontario Provincial Police Association joining the fray (and yes, to the chagrin of many of us, also a union that represents journalists), the impression that the Tories are under simultaneous assault from pretty much every union in the province is, if anything, likelier to stir a debate about third-party spending rules than if it were mostly just Working Families again.

In the improbable event that Mr. Hudak wins a majority government, one has to imagine he’ll move fairly swiftly to try to prevent anything like this from happening again.

Update: A couple of people have pointed out that, while less heavy on TV this time, Working Families has taken more of a plunge into radio, online and print advertising. Perhaps that has something to do with individual unions largely covering off the TV side of things, and it’s almost certainly related to the relative scarcity of ad space in that medium with the parties and the third parties all competing for it after a sudden election call.

PCs, New Democrats claim debate win with front-cover newspaper ads

Why leave it up to the media to decide who won a debate when you can buy the front of a newspaper to claim victory yourself?

That’s the thinking behind what’s quickly becoming a common practice in Canadian election campaigns. On Wednesday, both the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats bought wrap ads in daily papers to declare themselves the winner of the previous night’s debate.

The NDP, who bought the front of Metro, declared “Horwath leads” over a photo of their leader surrounded by cheering supporters and the results of a preferred-premier poll by Ipsos Reid that showed her in front.

This ad, published in the free daily paper Metro, describes Horwath's success in a preferred-premier poll.

This ad, published in the free daily paper Metro, brings up Horwath’s success in a preferred-premier poll. 

The Tories did them one better. Not only did the front cover of 24 Hours declare Mr. Hudak’s “laser-like focus” had won the debate, it also contained no fewer than four separate throws to non-existent stories attacking the Liberal Party on gas plants, tax hikes, MaRS and a possible coalition with the NDP.

This ad, published in the free daily newspaper 24 Hours, touts Hudak's victory in last night's debate.

This ad, published in the free daily newspaper 24 Hours, touts Hudak’s victory in last night’s debate.

This not-so-subtle technique made waves a year ago when B.C. Premier Christy Clark used it to dub herself “the comeback kid” following a debate. Former Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter tried it out last fall.

And Ms. Horwath bought the front of the Toronto Sun last month in a bid to reach its traditionally blue-collar readership in the inner suburbs – a demographic the NDP is targeting hard.

So far, the technique’s effectiveness is as debatable as its ethics. Ms. Clark did, indeed, win a comeback victory over the heavily-favoured NDP. But Mr. Dexter was less fortunate, falling to third place and losing his own seat.

Whether it works or not, the ads seem unlikely to go away anytime soon. Newspapers need revenue as much as parties need votes.

A tale of two negative ads

In my column today, I briefly touched on the effectiveness of the negative ad (“The Liberal record”) the Ontario NDP ran recently, relative to the one (“Doors”) the Progressive Conservatives have been running. Here, if you’ve not seen them, are the ads in question:

It’s worth explaining a little more how different the reactions were when Innovative Research Group put these ads to its online panel, as part of its continuing effort to help us see this campaign through the eyes of the electorate.

Unsurprisingly, both ads played well with self-identified supporters of the party that aired them. But whereas the NDP’s ad also played well with Tories, the Tories’ ad didn’t go over well with New Democrats.

Reaction to NDP ad ‘The Liberal Record’

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group


Reaction to Progressive Conservative ad ‘Doors’

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group

That difference admittedly doesn’t seem like much of a deal-breaker, especially considering the ads got about the same negative reaction from people who usually vote Liberal. But then, even people who find an ad negative might still be impacted by it in the way the party that aired it wants.

On that note, here’s how the different vote groups reacted when asked if they thought the ads were “credible”:

Perception of credibility for NDP ad ‘The Liberal Record’

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group


Perception of credibility for PC ad ‘Doors’

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group

Setting aside that New Democrats really don’t seem to trust the Tories even when they’re attacking the Liberals, what appears most relevant here is that even roughly half of Liberals who were shown the ad thought its criticism of their party of choice was valid. Considering that people who associate with a party tend to rally around it when it’s under attack, that’s surprising.

That doesn’t mean the NDP ad could persuade anywhere near that share of Liberal viewers to have second thoughts about voting Liberal. But it does appear capable of achieving more on that front than the Tories’ ad, while also dissuading more unaligned voters from casting their lot with Kathleen Wynne’s party. Here’s what respondents said when asked if the ads made them more or less likely to vote Liberal.

Reaction to Liberal Party after viewing the NDP ad ‘The Liberal Record’

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group


Reaction to Liberal Party after viewing the PC ad ‘Doors’

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group

All this is to say that, from what we can tell, the NDP is capable of doing more damage to the Liberals with negative advertising than the Tories are.

It’s also worth noting that if one party could maybe afford to pull its negative ads and let the other do its dirty work, it’s the Tories. That’s because while PC voters seem to respond equally well whatever party is telling them about the Liberals’ sins, New Democrats seem to be much more persuaded when they hear it from fellow travelers than from Tories.

A caveat here is that while 42% of respondents shown the PC ad said they had already seen it previously, only 20% expressed familiarity with the NDP one. As Innovative Research’s Greg Lyle points out, that could slightly distort the effectiveness, because an ad could be more impactful on first viewing than subsequently.

But it’s hard not to look at these numbers and come away with the sense that, heading into the campaign’s final leg, the Liberals have more to fear from NDP attacks than PC ones – especially if Andrea Horwath’s party is finally able to start matching the other parties in how much it spends to get its ads on the air.

(Responses to these two ads were drawn from a survey in which 1,200 eligible Ontario voters participated. Asked which party they usually support, 30 per cent of respondents said Liberal, 24 per cent Progressive Conservative, 16 per cent NDP, 5 per cent Green and 2 per cent other; 14 per cent said they don’t identify with any party and 10 per cent didn’t know. Each participant was shown one ad that has been aired by each party, meaning that sample sizes were smaller than 1,200 for each individual ad.

As parties get more sophisticated in targeting messages to individual voters, we want to get as many people as possible involved in helping us keep track of those messages and how they’re delivering them. If you’d be willing to help us tell the story of this campaign by keeping a campaign diary to let us know who contacted you and uploading campaign material, or maybe giving your reaction to ads, issues and events, you can sign up for the Listening Post Network here.)

Ontario police union release attack ad against Hudak

The Ontario Provincial Police Association – the union representing the provincial police force – has released two attack ads against Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak. The ads says Mr. Hudak will rip up police contracts and put their pension in danger.

This is the first time in the organization’s history that it has ever produced a political attack ad.

Asked about the ads at a morning media event, Mr. Hudak said he respects the work police do but they won’t be exempt from his public sector wage freezes.

“It’s just fair and reasonable to say all of us, starting with me, won’t have any wage increases for at least two years,” he said. “When you’re spending $1.5-million more, every hour, 24 hours a day than you take in in revenue you have got to stop the spending and it starts with a wage freeze for all of us, including the politicians. No exemptions.”

Update: After being briefly taken down, the ads are back up. The change? The video originally said “OPP”, but now says “OPPA.”

Can you spot the difference in these two Liberal ads?

If you were watching TV in Ontario about a week ago, you might have noticed this ad (“Build Ontario up”) from Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals.

If you were watching in the past few days, you might have seen this one (“Clear Choices”) instead:

It’s possible that if you caught both, you thought you saw the same ad twice. But there’s a reason why the second replaced the first – and some new opinion data helps explain what it is.

From May 28 through June 1, as part of its continuing effort to help us see this election campaign through the eyes of the electorate, Innovative Research Group put some of the ads the parties have been running to its online panel. As with the research we highlighted last week, it’s best to see this as a sort of focus group that allows us to see how parties are trying to win over other parties’ supporters or motivate their own.

So, what did the survey find about these two Liberal ads? For starters, while an equal share of respondents indicated each one made a positive impression on them, “Build Ontario Up” generated slightly more of a negative reaction than “Clear Choices” did.

What was your overall impression of the ad?

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group

There was a similarly moderate difference when respondents were asked to judge whether they thought the two ads were “credible”:

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group

Where the differences start to get a little bigger and a little more interesting is “net impact” of the ads on intentions to vote Liberal – which is to say the gap in percentage points between those who said it made them more likely and those who said it made them less likely to do so. Here’s how that shook out for these two ads, broken down into which party respondents self-identified with at the start of the survey:

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group

So based on this research, the second ad is better at motivating Liberals, does less to upset (and thus perhaps motivate) Tories, and gives Kathleen Wynne’s party a somewhat better chance of winning over New Democrats and those who don’t self-identify with any particular party.

Why does “Clear Choices” play so much better than “Build Ontario Up”? Maybe because it’s less strident about pushing Ms. Wynne’s faith in government as it tries, using almost the exact same imagery, to strike a contrast with Tim Hudak. For comparison’s sake, here are the two scripts narrated by the Premier:

Build Ontario up: “I believe government should be a force for good in people’s lives. So my plan is about creating jobs, investing in much-needed roads and transit, and providing fair pensions. Tim Hudak wants to make classrooms more crowded, cut teachers and health care, and somehow make our economy grow by firing a hundred thousand people. Those are the choices in this election. I want to build Ontario up, not tear it down. That’s what leadership is.”

Clear choices: “This election the choices are drawn very clearly. My focus is on creating well-paying jobs, investing in transportation, and providing a better pension so people can retire with dignity and security. Tim Hudak wants to fire a hundred thousand workers and make massive cuts to education, so he can balance the budget one year sooner and slash the taxes big corporations pay. I want to build Ontario up, not cut it down. That’s what leadership is.”

Clearly, the differences are subtle. But parties are known to test just about every word of their messaging, and adapt accordingly. The slight adjustment in those ads speaks to what the Liberals think works for Ms. Wynne, and what goes a little too far.

(Responses to these two ads were drawn from a survey in which 850 eligible Ontario voters participated. Asked which party they usually support, 29 per cent of respondents said Liberal, 22 per cent Progressive Conservative, 17 per cent NDP, 6 per cent Green and 1 per cent other; 14 per cent said they don’t identify with any party and 11 per cent didn’t know.

As parties get more sophisticated in targeting messages to individual voters, we want to get as many people as possible involved in helping us keep track of those messages and how they’re delivering them. If you’d be willing to help us tell the story of this campaign by keeping a campaign diary to let us know who contacted you and uploading campaign material, or maybe giving your reaction to ads, issues and events, you can sign up for the Listening Post Network here.)


How campaigns’ radio ads are different from TV spots

In the run-up to Wednesday’s lifting of the advertising blackout that was in place for the election’s first two weeks, all three major parties made a big production of unveiling their new TV ads.

None of them made as much of a show of presenting their radio ads. But that’s where some of the most interesting action will be this campaign, because it’s where the parties can present a whole whack of different messages tailored to different audiences.

Whereas TV ads cost a lot to get on the air and mostly have to run province-wide, radio ones are cheaper to produce and place, and the parties can pick and choose which markets hear them. In some cases, even listeners within the same city might hear different messages from the same party, depending on which station they listen to and what the demographics of its audience are.

All this is to say that it merits doing our best to track who the parties are trying to reach through the radio, and what they’re saying – because it might be different in tone and even in substance from what they’re communicating on TV.

For instance, an ad the Progressive Conservatives are running on talk-radio stations, which features a woman narrating a letter she’s heard typing to Kathleen Wynne, strikes a bit of a contrast to their optimistic TV spot. Here’s the script, up to the last part where Tim Hudak briefly introduces himself and says he has “a plan to create a million jobs and lower your taxes”:

Dear Kathleen,

My husband Stuart lost his job last week. The plant where he worked was shut down. They packed up and moved out of Ontario in favour of greener pastures south of the border. Just like that, no more job. Stu was at the company for 15 years – showed up on time, kept his head down, never complained. He blames himself. But I don’t – I blame you. Not only has your say-anything, spend-anything Liberal government wiped out gas plants, discouraged business, cost this province 300,000 manufacturing jobs…Speaking of jobs – how you’ve managed to keep yours is beyond me. My husband has lost his job and for that, you’ve lost our votes. It’s over, Kathleen, we’re moving on.


I don’t mean to single out the Tories – I’m sure all three parties are delivering different message on radio than on TV. So by all means, if you hear something you don’t think has been widely noticed yet, let us know – or even better, record it and send it over. I’m at, if you’re so inclined.

Working Families fights Tim Hudak on his turf

Behold, the first salvo from Working Families Coalition – the union group that seems to keep Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives up at night – is upon us.

An oddity of this ad, as others have noted, is that the sole source for its claim that Mr. Hudak is “misleading voters” with his “million jobs” pledge is a four-month-old column in the St. Catharines Standard.

What I find equally surprising about is that the ad takes on the “million jobs” promise at all, rather than trying to stir up fear around his vow to cut 100,000 jobs from the province’s broader public sector.

It’s a safe bet that the job cuts, and warnings of the impact they’d have, will appear in subsequent Working Families ads, possibly within a matter of days. But it’s nevertheless telling that the unions started by trying to discredit Mr. Hudak’s more positive message, because it probably means their research is telling them he’s getting some traction with it.


What you need to know about three political ads

Ontario Progressive Conservatives: “I want to work”

What the ad says: The PCs introduce us to three Ontarians – a machinist, a chemical engineer and a welder – who say they “want to work.” Leader Tim Hudak appears and says the province is facing a “jobs crisis.”

What the party hopes you’ll take away: There’s a crisis and the Ontario PCs have a plan to fix it. The point to their website to learn what that plan is.

Fact check: Mr. Hudak says in the ad that there are “one million people out of work.” According to Statistics Canada, there were 555,000 unemployed people in Ontario in April – though that doesn’t count those who are underemployed (such as part-time work) or those who have given up looking for jobs.


Ontario Liberals: “Build Ontario up”

What the ad says: Leader Kathleen Wynne says government “can be a force for good” by creating jobs, investing in transit and “providing fair pensions.”

What the party hopes you’ll take away: That Ms. Wynne just wants to “build the province up” not “tear it down” like Mr. Hudak.

Fact check: There are few specific claims to check, though her comments about Mr. Hudak – such as his pledge to get rid of 100,000 public-sector workers and increase class sizes – are part of his “One Million Jobs Plan.”(The Progressive Conservatives, though, say it’s not fair to classify the reductions in public-sector staffing as “firings,” since they plan to lose many of those positions due to attrition.)  It’s also worth noting that some business groups have not been thrilled by the Liberals’ pension proposal.


Ontario NDP: “The Liberal record: 10 years of mismanagement”

What the ad says: Scandals, such as the gas plants and Ornge, have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars.

What the party hopes you’ll take away: It’s time for Ontario voters to “put the Liberals in the penalty box.”

Fact check: The party is careful to frame the scandals as part of “the Liberal record” – because they occurred before Ms. Wynne became premier in early 2013, not while she was in office.

Battle of the third parties: ‘Working Canadians’ vs ‘Working Families’

While Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives fret about what Working Families Coalition will do once the advertising blackout lifts on Wednesday, and try to condition the public for the union group’s efforts, an organization more to their liking has already been running an ad of its own.

As reported back in January, “Working Canadians” is an obvious response to Working Families, led by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s Catherine Swift. Over the past couple of weeks, it’s been airing this spot on AM 640, a talk-radio station in Toronto:

The organization seems to have been able to get around the blackout for the first two weeks of the writ period by not registering as a third party, on the basis that it’s not commenting on any political parties or candidates. And it appears the ad will continue running on that station, at least, for a while longer.

It doesn’t look, though, like Working Canadians will have significantly broader reach during this campaign. “We do plan to be doing some more advertising over the next few weeks,” Ms. Swift said when reached by e-mail. “Of course we have nowhere near the resources the unions have so we have to be very low-cost and strategic.”

With Mr. Hudak running on significantly smaller government and a big corporate tax cut, it’s somewhat surprising that business interests haven’t come forward with enough money to match the unions fighting to keep him from office. But Ms. Swift’s efforts are more than we’ve seen from that side in the past couple of campaigns, and the Tories are probably grateful for any indirect help they can get.