The Ontario Election Campaign on Social Media

With the official start of the Ontario election campaign two weeks away, I’ve been looking at what each of the three major parties are doing on social media.  Underlying my casual empiricism is the hypothesis, supported by a growing body of evidence, that a party’s online popularity measured by indicators such as viewcounts and page visits is a predictor of its electoral success.

The Ontario Liberals have launched an attack website,

The Real Doug Ford

and run an ad attacking the likely policies of a Ford Government (cutting public service jobs, cancelling the increase in the minimum wage, ignoring climate change, restricting access to abortion). The ad has been running on television including hockey games. Launched about 2 weeks ago, its YouTube viewcount reached 38,000 and is now holding steady. The website also contains clips of various statements Ford has made over the years that are sexist and disrespect disabled people. There is also a long clip from an interview Ford gave on October 3, 2016, where he expressed enthusiastic support for then-candidate Donald Trump.

The Ontario NDP have 5 election ads on their YouTube channel. All are positive, promoting the party’s policies, rather than attacking (at most by inference, but not by name) other parties. Topics include health care, pharmacare, dental care, and hydro rates. To the best of my knowledge they have not been running on television. The total viewcount for the 5 ads is approximately 13,000.

The Ontario Conservative Party has no ads posted on YouTube or Facebook and also, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t been running ads on television. But the party has a powerful surrogate, a political advocacy group called Ontario Proud. Ontario Proud is concerned mainly about pocket-book issues, such as hydro rates, gasoline prices, and taxes, all of which it argues are too high. It is outraged by the province’s cap-and-trade component of environmental policy, which they simplistically describe as sending money to Quebec and California. Ontario Proud posts its videos on Facebook. A video on April 10 attacking cap-and-trade (“are you ready for $1.50 gas?”) has received 2.1 million views. And new videos are coming out fast and furious.

At first glance, it would seem that the Conservatives are winning the video-view war by a wide margin. However, Facebook and YouTube count video views in very different ways. For Facebook, autoplay is counted and a video need be watched for only 3 seconds. For YouTube, viewing must be initiated by the user who must watch at least 50 percent of the video or 30 seconds for longer videos. There isn’t a simple formula that translates Facebook viewcounts into YouTube viewcounts, like Celsius into Fahrenheit.

Looking ahead, my guess is that NDP advertising will continue on a positive note. The federal NDP was burned in the 2015 election by going negative, and primarily benefited the Liberals, and their Ontario cousins won’t make the same perceived mistake again.

The Conservatives, currently with a strong lead in the polls, may choose to play it safe in their advertising, having Doug Ford telling a positive story, and leaving it to Ontario Proud to attack the policies of the Wynne Government. If the Conservatives were to run attack ads, they could be lifted word-by-word and image-by-image from Ontario Proud’s.

The Liberals are in a difficult if not desperate situation. They must hope that Wynne scores knockouts over Ford in the coming debates.

They could run ads where Kathleen Wynne speaks personally and directly to the voters about the differences between her policies and style of governing and Doug Ford’s.

Finally, they could intensify their attacks. One line of attack that Wynne has already advanced would be to show Ford’s support for Trump and the similarities between the two men. The posted clip of Doug Ford praising Donald Trump runs for 8 minutes. There are some lines that would easily fit into an ad, such as “Trump will get along with other countries like Russia,” “no one can buy Donald Trump,” “Donald Trump respects women, absolutely he respects women,” and “you’re in a locker room. It’s locker room garbage, it happens.” The obvious graphic would be Ford’s face morphing into Trump’s.

Another approach would be a straight-out attack on Ford’s character, with supporting evidence for each trait. Corrupt. Dishonest. A bully. Ignorant. Uncaring. As I’ve discussed in my post of April 8, I think there is ample evidence for each of these accusations.

Yet another approach would be the focus on Ford’s policies and show what Ontario would look like under his government. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change closed. More childhood asthma, due to worsening air pollution. Teachers on strike. Hospitals turning away patients. This is, in effect, the ad that is currently running, but with harder-hitting messaging and graphics, perhaps using images like teachers’ strikes in Republican states (Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kansas) where these sorts of policies have been tried and have failed.

For the Liberals, it’s time.

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