Did you know that in the last federal election, only 61.1 per cent of eligible Canadian voters cast their ballot? That’s the third lowest voter turnout in Canadian history, just 2.3 percentage points higher than the all-time low of 58.8 per cent turnout in 2008. But why?

Research can uncover perceptions, motivations, desires and other key drivers of behaviour to help answer that all-important “why” question. It’s common understanding by now that reaching out and engaging with people is just good business. Listening through research can help guide and develop more meaningful and lasting relationships. So, it’s important to take low voter-turnout into consideration when valuing the health of our democracy. But, the central question and the solution to the problem lies in understanding why so many people didn’t vote.

Elections bring research to the fore like no other event can. However, more often than not the spotlight is thrown almost exclusively on “polls,” and sometimes even “pollsters.” Although some would say that any attention is good attention—I’m not so sure. But, I’m confident that elections also provide us with a golden opportunity to experiment and to showcase innovative research designs. I’d like to think of this a perfect opportunity to understand the “why” within the political landscape—a complement to the widely reported “horse race” polls.

Horse race polls are not diagnostic and have an incredibly short shelf life. The best way to gauge the ground game in an election is from the riding level up—something the parties know and employ masterfully. Media polling, on the other hand, is largely supplied on an earned-media relationship basis or cost-recovery model, and doesn’t have the funding behind it to dive deep into data. Instead, polling companies are compelled to field short, cost-contained vote intention polls. The result can often be an emphasis on the moment and on the superficial, with only dim speculation-fuelled illumination into what’s at play beneath the surface.

We’re not going to focus a whole lot on the national vote intention polls. When properly aggregated they offer a snap shot of directionality, sure, but they’re of little use beyond that. Instead, let’s get back to understanding the why in this election. Throughout the election, we’ll employ creative and rigorous methodologies to gain insight in what Canadians are thinking about—qualitatively and quantitatively—to get to that answer. Our approach to qualitative isn’t a few open-ended questions in a survey. Rather, we’re opening and maintaining a dialogue with a standing election panel made up of about 150 Canadians, from all walks of life and political stripes. And, this panel will be drawn from our proprietary H+K-managed research community called H+K Perspectives—a 20,000-strong Canadian research community.

Starting in September we’ll begin a conversation with members of the election panel and ask them to reflect on the unfolding campaign and to share their thoughts and stories about the election. What’s important to them? What’s inspiring them? What’s discouraging them? Are their opinions changing? And, if so, how and why? Panel members will be encouraged to send in pictures or articles and news stories that are important to them. We’ll draw out key issues and emerging trends from our conversations and use those insights to inform the design of questions that we’ll then pose to large samples of Canadians—furnished by H+K Perspectives. The quantitative survey questions will be interlocked with the themes being discussed in-depth with the election panel—a very powerful methodology that employs both depth and breadth.

In the lead-up to Election Day, we’ll report on our research findings. The stories we hear from the standing panel, along with the survey data points that bolster the stories, will paint a picture about how the election is unfolding through the eyes of Canadians: the issues politicians are debating, the shifting federal political landscape and what impact this election is having on the health of our democracy.

Why? Because this powerful, co-created approach to understanding this election, based on an innovative research methodology, harnesses the power of public engagement. And, one that we hope helps to put the “public” back in “public opinion.”

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