May 29, 2018

ONPulse – The Evolution of Campaign Advertising in Ontario

Authored by:

Sarah Dickson

Sarah Dickson

The end of the campaign period is approaching as Ontario’s 42nd general election nears.

At spark*advocacy, we have spent the last six weeks paying close attention to the themes and trends in political advertising relating to the Ontario election.

To recap the parameters on Third Party political advertising set out by Elections Ontario – check out this spark*advocacy post here.

Party- and Leader-Centric Trends in Third Party Advertising:

In mid-April, when our team began tracking third party political advertising, there were 22 registered third parties with Elections Ontario. As of May 26th things are heating up with 46 third parties now registered. The number and diversity of registered third parties truly reflects the variety of issues at play this time around in Ontario. Topics that stand out range from specific local issues, to large-scale, province-wide changes in education, massive health care policies, public transit, and affordable housing. Notable local issues include the future of the Pickering Nuclear Plant and improvements to the TTC. The most prominent province-wide subjects are reducing wait times in hospitals and for medical procedures, increased public school funding, opposition to the privatization of public transit, and affordable home ownership.

Six weeks ago, we observed that political advertising was predominantly party- and leader-centric, rather than issue specific, as much of the early advertising either supported or opposed one of Ontario’s three major political parties. At the outset, the amount of party-centric third party advertising was split fairly evenly across the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, and the Ontario New Democrats. The tone of this party-centric advertising varied, however, with the NDP receiving positive ad coverage and the PCs and Liberals receiving mostly negative ad coverage.

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Party- and leader-centric advertising continued to dominate through much of the campaign, although the tone and subjects of this advertising shifted with the momentum of the campaign. The third week was the first major turn in messaging where the majority shifted to the PCs and the NDP, rather than the Liberals. As ONPulse pointed out, the NDP were gaining momentum while the Liberals were stalled.

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Left: Better Change for Ontario, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUeMOZgWIaE.

Centre: Working Families Ontario, https://www.facebook.com/pg/workingfamiliesontario/ads/.

Right: Working Ontario Women, Instagram.

Towards the end of May, we see advertising that is asking more and more voters to consider “strategic voting” where Ontarians vote not necessarily for who they want most but rather who has the best chance of beating the candidate they want least. The Ontario New Democrat momentum and the party’s ability to “Stop Ford” was beginning to be reinforced by third party advertisers.

As conservative-minded third party advertisers, such as Ontario Proud and National Citizens Coalition, began recognizing the threat posed by the NDP, Andrea Horwath also became the subject of some attack advertising, which moved almost completely away from Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals.

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Over the course of the campaign, the subjects of leader-centric third party advertising have shifted from all three of Ontario’s major party leaders equally, to predominantly Horwath and, to a lesser extent, Ford. This shift echoes research findings of increasing Ontario New Democrat momentum. Although the subjects of third-party leader-centric advertising have narrowed since the beginning of the campaign, there are still a diversity of voices in the arena that want to influence and sway voters ahead of the June 7th election day.

On May 27th, Abacus Data wrote that the Ontario election is still too close to call. This reality is likely to be reflected in the advertising in the final full week of the campaign, as all parties will attempt to secure the support of leaning and undecided voters, while firming up their base.

We can expect in the final days remaining before the advertising blackout period that there will be a significant last push in advertising to stand as a last thought before voters head to the polls.

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