August 7, 2020

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Long campaign requires endurance... and cash

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/8/2015 (1819 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Ironman Triathlon is the ultimate test of physical endurance. Participants start off by swimming for nearly four kilometres. Then, they hop on a bike and cycle for 180 km -- basically, the distance from downtown Winnipeg to Neepawa. And if this wasn't exacting enough, they follow up by running a full 26.2-mile (42-km) marathon.

If a typical 36-day federal election campaign is a mad sprint to the finish, this extraordinary 78-day campaign is a lot like an ironman triathlon. And right now, in the dog days of August, two months until we cast ballots, we've only swum a few hundred metres, with the gruelling cycling and running stages yet to come.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper waves as he makes his way to the airplane as he departs Regina on Thursday, August 13, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper waves as he makes his way to the airplane as he departs Regina on Thursday, August 13, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

The period between today and Labour Day feels like the first, slow act of this long campaign. You may have noticed a smattering of candidates' signs going up, and of course the federal leaders are in the news a lot more lately and have even faced off in their first debate. But unless you're a hard-core political junkie, it's pretty unlikely you're paying much, if any, attention to the unfolding campaign.

Many of the local campaigns are still in the process of getting organized, opening their offices and beginning their canvassing. In fact, there are still a number of candidate spots that have not been filled on the ballot yet. According to the indispensable Pundits Guide website, as of this week only the Liberals have nominated candidates in all 14 of Manitoba's ridings. The Conservatives have nominated 13, the Greens have 12 in place while the NDP have only managed to nominate eight candidates -- meaning they still have six spots to fill.

Based on this, it would appear the long campaign has not had a discernible impact on what voters in Manitoba are seeing from campaigns. The strong, well-organized local campaigns that have had candidates already nominated are doing the things they probably would have been doing anyway had the writ not been dropped until September. The only difference is their summer activities are now eligible campaign expenses.

For these campaigns, money and volunteers are important resources, and it will be critical that they do not burn too quickly through them, like a cyclist who decides to start sprinting in the third kilometre of a 180-km bike race.

This is less of a problem for cash-flush riding associations: for instance, as Mary Agnes Welch recently reported in the Free Press, as of the end of 2014 all but three of the Conservatives' 14 Manitoba riding associations had more than $50,000 in the bank. These campaigns will be able to bear the added expenses associated with an extended campaign, while "paper candidates" who are essentially names on a ballot, will probably not be affected that greatly by the added rigour of a 79-day operation.

The campaigns that will have to be the most careful with their resources are the ones where the candidates will be strong enough to mount a campaign with all of the necessary resources (signs, advertising, office space, a bank of phones for calling voters, etc.) but who have low odds of winning and whose means of raising money from a large number of local donors will be limited. These campaigns will have to resist the urge to spend heavily, especially in the early weeks of the writ period.

Of course, the main use of money in Canadian politics is for advertising by the national parties. Here, the Conservatives also have a significant advantage over their rivals. They have continued to deploy a number of advertisements on prime-time television attacking Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for being "just not ready."

The other campaigns do not appear to be spending as heavily on television advertising, but they are producing cheaper web advertisements that can be shared on social media. The NDP's latest shows debate footage of Trudeau admitting he was "naive" in his approach to supporting the Conservatives' anti-terrorism legislation, Bill C-51, and argues this proves Trudeau isn't "up to the job" of being prime minister.

Most people claim to not like so-called attack ads, but they continue to be used because they work. They define public impressions of party leaders -- and once defined, it can be difficult if not downright impossible for leaders to change the public's view of them. Just ask former Liberal leaders Stéphane "Not a Leader" Dion and Michael "Just Visiting" Ignatieff.

At this stage in the campaign, however, it is unclear whether the ads, the debates and the campaign coverage are having a significant effect on public opinion. The latest national surveys released this week by Ipsos (for Global News) and Nanos Research show the three parties remain clustered around 30 per cent support. The shifts, if they happen, will likely come later, once the campaign begins in earnest.

The Labour Day weekend will likely mark the first turning point of the campaign, with the period between the first day of school and Thanksgiving being the equivalent of the triathlon's long bike race. The Thanksgiving weekend to election day on Oct. 19 will be the final running portion of this campaign, when people really make up their minds about who to vote for.

It remains to be seen how much the parties and the candidates have left in the tank at that point.


Curtis Brown is the vice-president of Probe Research Inc. His views are his own. Twitter: @curtisatprobe


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