It’ll be interesting to watch the impact of third-party groups seeking to influence voters and party platforms over the course of this election. As decision-makers in government and business are called upon to demonstrate genuine public support for policies and projects, third-party public engagement efforts provide us with insights into the changing world of public affairs.
As of September 1, 2015, 48 third-party groups were registered with Elections Canada: 26 advocacy groups, 15 labour unions, three member-based associations and four “others.” These groups are focused on 11 issues, ranging from public health care to veterans to affordable Internet for Canadians. No business-oriented groups were registered.
We looked at leading third-party groups and tracked their impact during the first month of this election. Here are some findings that caught our attention—and, might help us understand the opportunities and challenges of building public engagement and support in the digital age.

Groups to watch

Leadnow and Canadian Veterans are the groups to watch—with their Vote Together and Anyone but Conservatives (ABC) campaigns, respectively—both focused on change. These groups are behemoths compared to others when it comes to engagement on social media and have also enjoyed success with mainstream media. Take a look at the engagement* levels for the top five third-party groups on Facebook:

*Facebook engagement is based on the number of likes, comments and shares on each group’s Facebook page generated from August 4 to September 1. We only tracked content related to the groups’ election campaigns.
Leadnow is an independent advocacy organization campaigning to defeat the Harper government by encouraging Canadians to vote for local candidates who can unseat Conservative incumbents. Leadnow is focused on “becoming experts in how to mobilize large numbers of people around issues and elections to make change happen.” The organization’s current issue priorities are open democracy, fair economy and climate justice. With 50,000+ Facebook fans, 15,000+ Twitter followers and a 450,000-strong email list, Leadnow is ahead of all third-party groups when it comes to social media engagement and is in third place when it comes to earned media.
The Canadian Veterans’ ABC 2015 campaign places the group as a strong second. Its #voteabc is the second most popular third-party hashtag in the #elxn42 Twitter conversation. The ABC 2015 group has a sizeable and growing Facebook community of 13,000+ hyper-engaged fans, generating 56,000+ Facebook likes, shares and comments in the first month of campaign. Here’s just one example of its popular support:

Source: Facebook

Traditional and digital tactics

These groups are deploying an integrated mix of traditional and digital campaign tactics to engage people and politicians.
Leadnow members are invited to join local canvas teams, make calls to voters in swing ridings and donate for riding-specific polls:


The Canadians Veterans’ ABC 2015 campaign is commissioning polling, recruiting local volunteers and offering lawn signs in exchange for donations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA)—the most successful third-party group in terms of media coverage—is using Twitter and Facebook to engage Canadians. The group also developed a Rick Mercer-like rant featuring CMA president Chris Simpson on seniors’ care:

Where’s health care?

Interestingly, health care isn’t a leading third-party issue despite consistently polling at the top of Canadians’ priority list. Out of the 48 third-party groups, only seven registered focus on health care—of these, CMA has been the only group able to generate traction in social media. CMA’s #seniorsplan was used 236 times in the #elxn42 conversation on Twitter, making it the fifth most popular third-party election hashtag:

Third parties represented above in order: Leadnow, Canadian Veterans, Open Media, Care Advocacy Association of Canada, Canadian Medical Association

Change is leading the conversation

We took a step back and looked at the broader #elxn42 Twitter conversation to assess whether third-party issues made a dent. We then zoomed in on the top 10 issues discussed in #elxn42 context:

For many third parties, voting is a proxy for change—the Unifor Votes campaign which encourages Canadians to pledge their vote is accompanied by the call-to-action: “Isn’t it time for change?” Given voting’s popularity in the #elxn42 conversation and leading campaign themes discussed earlier, it’s clear that the third-party story during the first month of this election is about mobilizing for change.

Building public support takes time

If you’re like us, you would have predicted that the leading third-party groups would be the established well-known organizations—labour unions or health-care groups. While the CMA and Unifor were successful in generating mainstream media, they haven’t been able to translate this into digital engagement. The clear digital leaders in this space—Open Media, Leadnow and the Canadian Veterans’ ABC 2015 campaign—came to #elxn42 with established online communities; those that waited for the start of the election to build their communities, or came with fragile following, are not connecting with Canadians online.
What we can learn from these third-party groups and their activity during the first month of the election campaign is that building a strong community takes time.

More to come

Next week, we’ll dive deeper into the data on third parties and the first half of #elxn42. Our follow-up will triangulate findings from social and mainstream media with public-opinion research on third parties generated from our H+K Perspectives panel—providing a greater insight into the impact of third-party groups on voters.

Authored by: Pierre Killeen