Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tweeting to the people wins the race

Calgary's mayor-elect reached young voters

  • Print

Calgary mayor-elect Naheed Nenshi is likely spending this weekend mulling over his sudden come-from-behind win and prioritizing his to-do list as he prepares to be sworn in as the mayor of Canada's fourth-largest city.

But for political watchers, the great debate isn't so much that Nenshi won as much as it is how he pulled it off.

A month ago, Nenshi wasn't even considered a front-runner. On Monday, he defeated the man who was by a resounding 27,000-plus votes.

Along the way he engaged thousands of people who haven't voted in a long time, if they have ever voted before at all, including a purple army of young people who donned Nenshi's signature purple campaign shirts and went door-knocking and vote-getting on his behalf.

"We can't find records going back far enough where turnout was ever higher," said Duane Bratt, chair of policy studies at Calgary's Mount Royal University.

In fact, six years ago, Calgary was near the rock bottom of municipal electoral turnout when less than one in five people in the city cast a ballot. Three years ago, turnout improved to one-in-three registered voters, better but still nothing to get excited about. On Monday, 54 per cent of registered voters participated in the election.

Bratt said many had expected turnout around 40 per cent but to get to 54 per cent was completely a shock.

Much of the credit is being heaped on Nenshi, a 38-year-old Harvard-educated business professor and first-generation Canadian. His charismatic and energetic personality and a deep-rooted knowledge of civic issues was combined with an uncanny communications ability that used both social media and traditional media to get out his message. It meant Nenshi could put out a news release and hold a media announcement that was picked up by newspapers and TV broadcasts. But it was also posted on Facebook and Twitter where it was re-posted and tweeted by thousands of fans, reaching far more people than just traditional media watchers alone.

Bratt said he thinks a little too much has been made of the Nenshi camp's use of forums like Facebook and Twitter, noting social media is an important piece of the puzzle but not the only one. It was mixing traditional campaign tools like town halls and door-knocking that did the trick.

"The Nenshi group was very good at mobilizing media attention," said Bratt.

Among his innovations were an app for the iPhone or iPad that consolidated all the facets of his online campaign world including Facebook, Twitter, news releases and photographs into a single page. Nenshi also didn't just post policy suggestions and campaign slogans and wait for the masses to discuss them. He constantly and directly communicated with voters online, responding publicly to their queries and comments on Twitter and Facebook.

"Unlike most candidates, he didn't just use (social media) as a broadcast tool," said Jason Allen, a longtime acquaintance of Nenshi who is now part of a drive to improve civic engagement in Hamilton, Ont. "If you posted a comment on Twitter, chances are Naheed would comment right back at you. Most people, if you make comments or ask questions online, they just ignore you."

Allen said Nenshi clearly realized young people don't communicate in old-school ways and that reaching them means using digital communication. He not only is young, he looked and sounded like a real young person, not a stuffed suit or high-brow academic.

Bratt said it will be interesting to see if the momentum and voter interest developed in the Calgary municipal election will carry over into future elections at the provincial and federal level.

However, the excitement in Calgary didn't transmit elsewhere in Alberta. In Medicine Hat, turnout was a dismal 38 per cent, 10 points lower than it was three years ago. In Edmonton, it was an even lower 34 per cent. And in Red Deer, the city recorded its lowest turnout ever at just 24.8 per cent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 22, 2010 A11

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Winnipeg police comment on two officers that resuscitated baby

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Aerial view of Portage and Main, The Esplanade Riel, Provencher Bridge over the Red River, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights and The Forks near the Assiniboine River, October 21st, 2011. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) CMHR
  • A Great Horned Owl that was caught up in some soccer nets in Shamrock Park in Southdale on November 16th was rehabilitated and returned to the the city park behind Shamrock School and released this afternoon. Sequence of the release. December 4, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


What do you think of Manitoba Hydro's deal to create a surface-parking lot to allow for construction of a new substation?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google