Executive summary of this post:

  • Ontario political parties still rely on traditional forms of contact with voters. During the 2014 Ontario election, survey respondents indicated mail, leaflets to homes and telephone calls were the most common contacts by candidates and parties. Digital contact was less frequent. Roughly 3% of voters reported being contacted through email by a party or candidate while social media contact was reported by about 2% of voters.
  • Online communications was decidedly unsocial. Aside from promote tweets, Facebook ads, and YouTube pre-roll and pop-up ads, none of the main parties seems to have been active or engaged online. Most observed and reported use indicates a lack creative inspiration or willingness to interact with voters and/or potential voters.
  • The general public seemed more interested (than the political class) in encouraging voter participation. The Abacus survey asked respondents whether they had encouraged anyone else to vote for one party or another and how they did it. Face to face contact was done by one in three voters. Interestingly, about 10% of eligible voters said they used social networks to encourage others to vote. While less frequent than other forms of communications, one in 10 eligible voters is not an insignificant number.
  • The Ontario Liberals led in all categories of political contact with the public. Respondents to the Abacus survey indicate the Liberals delivered more leaflets to people’s homes, placed more automated phone calls, made more live phone calls, sent more email, visited more homes and (as small as the number was… 2%), issued more social media messages.

FullDuplex.ca and AbacusData.ca have collaborated on a number of projects. Last year we worked with MediaStyle.ca to conduct the first comprehensive analysis of the role of online information and digital engagement in Canadian democracy and opinion shaping. We’re currently conducting research for the 2014 edition of this report series.

During the recent Ontario election, we worked together to investigate meaningful intersections of traditional opinion measurement with the spontaneous and unpredictable “wild west” of social media chatter. We also looked at the role of social media in campaigns, outreach and engagement.

You might expect from a string of Canadian and U.S. elections during which social media have taken centre stage in news reports that their role has become an increasingly important part of campaign communications and voter outreach.

In the case of the 2014 Ontario election, you’d be wrong.

In fact, the three main parties and their leaders individually, and collectively, turned the clock back on the role of digital in their campaigns. They abandoned social in social media and embraced the broadcast. They cancelled creativity and spontaneity, and turned to one-way political campaign advertising.

They allocated more funds in their advertising budget to online paid media, most predominantly in the form of promoted tweets, Facebook ads YouTube pre-roll and pop-up ads. In their Twitter accounts, Facebook Fan Pages and on YouTube, the parties and leaders soldered a diode into the communications ecosystem and apparently stopped listening and responding to the public. Comments and questions from the public and even supporters? All of them ignored.

Even on the good stuff, like when Twitter users announced they were shifting their allegiances, the newly supported failed to acknowledge and issue thanks.

The level of online engagement was low even at the local riding level. Polling data show 1% of respondents were contacted by their NDP candidate, and 2% by either their PC or Liberal candidate, over social media during the election.

We observed a number of online complaints about the relentless volume of campaign emails (note that Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation was not in effect during the election and a political exemption in the law means it wouldn’t apply anyway). Some people reported receiving as many as five messages a day from some teams. However, only about 3% of voters reported being contacted through email by a party or candidate.

Aside from a few stories about inappropriate online posts during the election and the entertaining #hudak8 pile-on following the economic criticisms of Tim Hudak’s Million Job Plan, social media rarely (if ever) made headlines during the election. This is unusual these days. Indeed, social media played a much more prominent role in the last federal election, recent provincial and municipal elections and even the 2011 Ontario election.

Sadly, this most recent Ontario election was a bit of a digital void.

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