(By Diana Zhao, Queen’s University)
In a democratic nation, in which citizens vote for the popular sovereignty, the way political parties are perceived by the public plays a critical role in election results. Political marketing strategies are used by politicians of every party in hopes of winning the votes of citizens. In recent years, a highly discussed topic is the implication of political marketing on the quality of democracy. In Canada, political marketing is beneficial to democracy as it keeps the public informed, sparks public interest, and allows new parties to stand a fighting chance. While some may argue that it hinders democracy, political marketing along with the policies in place can counteract those concerns.
To achieve an effective democracy, it is crucial to consider public participation, accountability and representation. A healthy democracy is measured by the public’s participation of the public in political decision-making. Political knowledge of the public is the basis of a high voter turnout, as it keeps they must be knowledgeable of the platforms to be interested and make informed decisions. Accountability focuses on the obligation owed by all public officials to the public upon being elected. Without accountability, the votes of the public do not translate to democracy, politicians do not live up to the promises in their platform. Representation is equally important, as the public must be offered at least one choice that resonates with their personal values to elect a government that represents the public interest. In determining whether political marketing is beneficial to Canadian democracy, its effect on public participation, accountability and representation must be examined.
During the campaign period, candidates and their campaign team create and distribute literature and advertisements about the candidate along with their platform to citizens. This is intended to keep the public informed of their central aims and to distinguish themselves from their opposition, which allows the public to compare goals of opposing parties and vote responsibly. With today’s advanced technology, the dissemination of information has become an easy task, allowing politicians to keep the public informed with little effort. Politicians and their team can easily create their own website or fan page on social media platforms. At the same time, it has also allowed negative campaigns for oppositions to be easily launched. In recent years, negative advertisements for opposing parties are on the rise and this phenomenon has led concerned scholars to believe it is threatening democracy.
In Poison Politics: Are Negative Campaigns Destroying Democracy, Victor Kamber explains that during elections, greed and ambition has resulted in a diminished public realm and harsh and selfish politics. Politicians are willing to do anything to win, including attacking their opponent through negative campaign ads. Some believe that negative advertisement campaigns can be misleading to the public and spread false information. However, negative advertising can actually be good for democracy as it reveals a different perspective. This perspective differs from the solely positive arguments given to the public by the candidates themselves. To help the public make an informed decision, candidates point out the shortcomings of their opposition to reveal unpopular truths. For example, in the 2004 national election, Paul Martin, the Liberal leader accused his opposition, Stephen Harper of the coalition Conservative Party, of having a hidden agenda. Although it is not true, this makes potential voters reflect upon past decisions of the Conservative Party. Negative campaigns allow the public to reflect upon past performance of each party to determine whether the attack ads are true or just false accusations. Through political marketing, the positive and negative information about each candidate is easily accessible to the public, who can then use this information to make an informed decision. This also contributes to the accountability of the elected party, as they must fulfill the promises in their platform to prevent truthful negative campaigns during their re-election.
Long before an election, politicians of every party begin to market themselves and their party to the public to be better known in their riding and to be perceived in a positive light. Some common strategies are canvassing, social media promotion, mass media coverage, as well as through direct mail. Similar to the marketing of any product or service, political marketing is meant to grab the attention of potential voters. While this keeps the public informed, it also keeps them interested in politics, which leads to a higher voter turn out. According to Stephen Brooks, Canadians are less likely to vote than at almost any time since Confederation. In surveys conducted between 1968 and 2000, it was concluded that someone who is 30 years old is 8 – 11 times more likely to vote than someone who is 20. The likelihood of voting also increases by 15 percent from age 20 to 50, meaning that the older generation is more likely to vote than younger generations. In light of this problem, political marketing allows politicians to cater their platforms to target the younger generations who are statistically less likely to vote.
Creating policies that directly impact them is an effective way to capture the interest of young voters. Currently, the NDP party is using the increase in childcare benefit and the creation of an Ontario childcare program to target young parents. By increasing the amount of money families receive per child, politicians are addressing an important concern for many young parents and married couples. Politicians can address new unconventional problems faced by different interest groups through targeted marketing and convince those who belong in groups who statistically do not vote to participate politically.
During the campaign period, politicians and their public relations team also create interesting advertisements and promotional events to raise awareness and recruit volunteers. Interesting advertisements on social media and in mainstream media raises awareness of upcoming elections and keeps the public informed of the candidates’ platform. Kathleen Wynne’s ambiguous “Never Stop” political ad was aired in November 2013 for the Provincial Member of Parliament Elections in Spring 2014. The short video of her jogging through rural Ontario could spark the interest of women, athletes and those living in rural Ontario. Furthermore, promotional events such as rallies and community socials are effective in recruiting volunteers and getting media attention. By keeping the public interested in politics, political marketing encourages public participation, which is an essential part of democracy.
Through today’s technological political marketing, new parties are able to stand a fighting chance against parties that has been in power for centuries. New parties are able to use political marketing strategies to show the public how they differ from their opposition and communicate their promise. A recent example that reflects the power of political marketing is the breakthrough of the New Democratic Party in Canada’s 2011 Federal Elections. In Canada, Member of Parliament candidates must receive a plurality vote in their riding to be elected to parliament, which means they must have more votes than opposition parties. Compared to the Liberal and Conservative Party, both of which contain ideology that were established since Confederation, NDP is relatively new. Political marketing played a significant role in making the NDP the Official Opposition for the first time in Canadian history. During the Campaign, a major contributor to their success is the gathering of market intelligence from the public. The information was to determine major issues that are of concern to different target groups and platforms were created accordingly to meet the needs of different population groups. Although the collection of data from the public was used as a form of marketing research, this also benefits democracy as it identifies concerns of different target groups to better represent the population based on their concerns. The victory of the NDP also shows that political marketing helps the public be better represented by their elected Member of Parliament, as the election results are reflective of changing values in contemporary society.
In Canadian democracy, every vote gets counted, but only the votes from the winning party are translated into action. Political marketing allows the public to know that every party stands a fighting chance and encourages the population to vote for what they truly believe in, instead of voting strategically for their vote to count. People are able to elect candidates from a political party that resonate more with their personal views, and have their values be represented in the House of Commons by their elected Member of Parliament. It is evident that political marketing is beneficial for Canadian democracy; during the campaign period, candidates use a variety of marketing strategies to communicate their platforms and promises to the public, keeping them informed and interested in politics. Through successful political marketing newer parties are able to represent their electors in parliament, making it possible to represent the voice of a broader range of values and interests. Surely Canadian democracy would not be the same without political marketing.
Overall I think it’s pretty good. You just need to touch up a little bit in the beginning to make it more concise. I know I suggested examples you could possibly give, but if it’s too rushed, it’s not bad the way it is. Look out for flow.