Some of Canada’s smaller political parties are not taking full advantage of social networking strategies to get their message out to voters this federal election due to a lack of resources – despite the fact that the net is a cheap way to reach voters.
TheThunderbird.ca carried out a survey of websites of Canada’s smaller political parties and found that only one of them featured prominent links to social networking sites.
The survey also took an in-depth look at four smaller parties, the Libertarian Party, the Christian Heritage Party, the Marxist-Leninist Party, and the Newfoundland Labrador First Party, by searching social networking sites for media they have produced. The survey showed that they are not taking advantage of the technology, particularly in comparison to the larger parties.
By contrast, the major parties are more active in their use of social media, according to The Toronto Star. Their comparison found that the large parties are beginning to offer content using social networking technologies, such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter.
The only smaller party offering easily accessible social media links on their website was the Newfoundland Labrador First Party.
Time and money
UBC political science professor Allan Tupper said the Internet’s potential as a political conduit is yet to be fully realized. “It’s not the revolution yet.”
Despite the fact that anyone can publish information on the Internet, Green Party spokesman Mike Gosselin said new technologies cost time and money. “To use these technologies you still need to have people to do the work. Not everyone has that amount of money to be able to spend on that… You can’t really harness bloggers to write for you, to work for you. You need to have paid staff people who are dedicated to using these new medias.”
Canada’s political system is made up of more than the four or five parties that get most of the media’s attention. Elections Canada recognizes 19 registered federal parties.
“Certainly there’s considerable movement toward using Internet-based communications, fund raising, and so on in Canadian politics,” says Tupper.
All of the parties have websites that offer their party platforms and other information that may be important to potential voters.
“It’s an easy way to get people to be able to access a lot of information without having to publish many newsletters or multiple-page pamphlets,” says Jason McNeil, Libertarian Party candidate in Calgary Centre-North.
American politicians, such as Howard Dean and Barack Obama, have been fairly successful in using the Internet to build grass-roots support for their platforms.
Canada’s political parties, however, have generally lagged behind their American counterparts in exploiting the Internet, including the use of social networking tools. Information in social networks tends to spread in an almost viral-like manner, as people share information with their circle of friends.
The challenge for parties is to reach out to people who may not already know about them or are not already involved in the political process.
“Instead of expanding participation, it’s simply providing more tools and diverse tools to those who are already in,” said Tupper.
Connecting with voters that are not already familiar with the party’s candidates or its platform can be a challenge for smaller parties.
“The Internet is great in that we can get our message out there but unless they have some way to know to look for us, it’s difficult,” said McNeil.
A recent poll commissioned by the Dominion Institute found that only nine per cent of young voters have been contacted by a political party using new media technologies, such as the Internet. It found that 35 per cent use the Internet to gather political information, suggesting that even the major parties have some way to go when it comes to their use of new media.
And as The Thunderbird found, Canada’s smaller political parties have so far done even less to use social media to connect with voters.