2015 is election time in Canada. Anyone who follows the back-and-forth in Ottawa already knows that this year’s campaign is gearing up to be one of the most exciting—and one of the longest—in recent memory. What’s emerging are very clear—and very different—visions for this country.
But most Canadians don’t follow the back-and-forth. Most Canadians find our politics boring at best and irrelevant at worst. Nearly 40% of Canadians didn’t bother to vote in the 2011 election. Explanations aside (that’s another topic for another blog), this time around, political parties will be looking for new ways to engage voters. They all know that the right combination of engagement and inspiration will be key to forming the next government.
Enter social media. As Brad Lavigne recently wrote, the 2015 election will be the first election in our history to fully harness the power of social media. From recruiting volunteers and mobilizing supporters, this year—like never before—democracy is coming to your smart phone or tablet.
I worked a central campaign in the 2011 election and I don’t remember social media playing nearly the role it’s expected to this time. It was there, of course, and we used it regularly. But this time, it could be a difference-maker. We’ve already read in this course how Barack Obama’s campaigns have used social media in new and brilliant ways. It’s no surprise, then, that both the New Democrats and the Liberals have hired Obama’s social media experts for their own campaigns.
Social media isn’t a fad, either. It’s going to fundamentally change how parties fight elections. There was a time when reaching out to voters was timely and costly. Maybe it meant a pricey television ad. Maybe it meant holding a press conference and hoping that journalists write what you want them to write. Maybe it meant mobilizing hundreds of volunteers to go door-to-door. Now, in addition to all that, parties can reach millions of Canadians on Facebook and Twitter—directly and without filter—with little or no cost at all. And they can do it from their Ottawa offices.
Like advertisers, political parties will be able to use social media to paint a pretty accurate picture of Canadians. Where you are, who you are and what you care about are all there for the taking. As Lavigne writes, political parties will be able to use social media to reach out and engage in a very personalized way.
Of course, none of this is meant to replace traditional campaign tools. Instead, social media will supplement and enhance a party’s strengths and weaknesses. Parties will still need good ideas and messages that resonate. And they’ll still need to avoid costly missteps. Today, even the smallest mistake can go viral and make national headlines.
Considering the dismal voter turnout we have in Canada, I’m all for anything that engages. None of the problems that exist in our politics today can be fixed if Canadians don’t care—if they don’t demand better. So the question is, will social media make you more engaged in the 2015 federal election?