Shopping for Votes: A Sequel?

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Political News Tuesday, November 24, 2015 View Count = 2147

Shopping for Votes: A Sequel?

shopping for votes

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“Shopping for Votes: A Sequel? is written by Susan Delacourt  from the Toronto Star.

Within just 96 hours of October's federal election, Susan Delacourt and 65 other leading thinkers and political scientists in Canada each wrote a short, snappy analysis of the election. Never before have Canadian experts collaborated to produce such a complete—and fast—response to an election. Together with UBC Press, Samara is proud to bring you all 57 articles as part of the "Election 2015" blog series, the definitive look at all angles of the 42nd general election.  

Watch this space to get all the analyses. For a complete list of academics involved, click here

In the political marketplace described in my 2013 book Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them, Canada’s 42nd federal election traded in two currencies—dollars and change. The resounding majority victory for Justin Trudeau and the Liberals would seem to be evidence that change was more powerful than dollars, and that voters went to the ballot box as more than just wallet-conscious consumers. 

Conservative leader Stephen Harper had tried, in the final week of the campaign, to reframe the election as a consumer choice—notably by punctuating his final appearances with the pinging sound of a cash register and wads of cash laid on a table. At the big Toronto rally on the last Saturday before voting day, featuring former mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug Ford, the main Conservative message revolved around value for dollars. “I’ll tell ya, Rob came up with this phrase, but nothing I can remember in a federal election is any more important than respect for taxpayers,” Doug Ford told the crowd before Harper spoke. As it turned out, though, Canadians did seem to have issues beyond the old “pocketbook” or “taxpayer” concerns in this election.

A poll by Abacus Data, conducted for Macleans magazine, was released on the same weekend as the Ford rally. It showed that though the economy was the top issue for a little more than one-third of the respondents, a full 47% said their vote decision would be based on “values” or a desire for change. 

Voters didn’t seem to be thinking about themselves as consumers when the election wandered into the perilous territory of the niqab, and whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear face coverings at citizenship ceremonies. Nor were consumer concerns top of mind when a young boy’s body turned up on a beach halfway around the world and the campaign’s conversation turned to the subject of Canada’s policy on Syrian refugees. Most importantly, perhaps, the voting results were widely interpreted as a demand for a change in tone at the top of the Canadian government. “I think our obvious weakness has been in tone, in the way we’ve often communicated our messages,” outgoing Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney said on election night. 

All this said, the latest election in Canada did build on many of the marketplace tools and tactics highlighted in Shopping for Votes. Conservatives relied heavily on advertising, including an eleventh-hour purchase of front-page-wrap ads across the Postmedia and Sun newspaper chains. Trudeau and the Liberals used advertising in sometimes novel ways, turning the Conservatives’ “just not ready” ads into an “I’m ready” rebuttal. The Liberal campaign was also highly attentive to imagery. One of the final Liberal campaign ads featured Trudeau on a stage in Brampton, rallying support in a style reminiscent of the Molson’s “I am Canadian” ads of the 1990s. Others might have been reminded of former US president Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” ads of the 1980s. 

All of the parties put new digital and data management tools to extensive use, especially in get-out-the-vote efforts. The surge in voter turnout at advance polls—a 70% rise over 2011—may well be traced to the parties’ increased sophistication in identifying and mobilizing support through those databases well in advance of the official election day. The nearly 70% figure in overall turnout may also be an indication that Canadian political parties are putting their data tools to good, democratic use. 

Everyone looks for value when shopping, even when “shopping for votes.” But Canada’s 42nd election is evidence that voters assess value in many ways; in dollars and change. 

Susan DelacourtSusan Delacourt is a Senior Writer at the Toronto Star. She has been covering politics on Parliament Hill since the late 1980s and has written four books about people and events in Canadian politics. Her latest book, Shopping for Votes (Douglas & McIntyre, 2013), about how marketing has changed Canadian political life, was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust/Hilary Weston prize in Canadian non-fiction. Susan also teaches political journalism and communication at Carleton University in Ottawa, is a writer at iPolitics, and appears regularly on CBC, CTV and Global TV.  

You can also find this article in the e-book Canadian Election Analysis 2015: Communication, Strategy, and Democracy, which is available for download on UBC Press's website

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