Political marketing communications in Canadian parliamentary elections at the turn of the millennium

Alex J. Marland
Politics & International Relations, Lancaster University
April, 2005
 

Abstract

This descriptive study looks at marketing and communications in Canadian federal elections. Commercial marketing literature is used to develop political marketing theory, while psephology literature is reviewed to summarize the practice in Canada, the United States, and Britain. The 2000 Canadian federal election is studied, as well as the 2004 campaign and 1998-2003 by-elections. This involves an analysis of candidates' expenditure declarations and 36 in-depth interviews with two-dozen election strategists.


Political marketing is a philosophical approach whereby opinion research is used to plan, shape, and help promote a political offering that will have the greatest electoral appeal. It is a more complex version of the "brokerage" style of politicking used by successful Canadian parties. The promotional element—such as advertising, direct marketing, or personal sales—is much easier to measure than the more enigmatic planning and shaping stages. Moreover, the marketing concept clashes with the negative tone of politics, with the franchise control of political parties, with the strength of political ideologies, and with campaign regulations. Nevertheless, in theory, candidates stand to benefit from strategic and tactical marketing planning.


Analysis of constituency election results and financial data shows a small electoral impact of local electoral communications at the turn of the millennium. Interview data strongly suggest that these promotional investments were rarely strategic or marketing-oriented. Only Canada’s most competitive and best-financed campaigns used opinion research, but even then typically for communications purposes, such as adjusting messaging during the campaign, rather than for designing their election platform.


Although local political marketing was rare, constituency campaigning in Canada has changed since it was last studied in 1988. Some organizations experimented with new approaches (such as robo-calls) while other tactics (such as push polling) had little presence. Civic engagement continues to decline and new technologies are only slowly integrated.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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