As the federal election campaign picks up steam, a new survey suggests parties will have to go increasingly digital to reach potential voters.
Thirty per cent of all eligible voters in the 2015 election will get their information about politics only online, according to research conducted by Abacus Data for Google Canada.
The "digital-only" voters are typically young, said Abacus CEO David Coletto. And while young Canadians are less likely to vote, the trend toward cutting cable is spreading to other generations as well – a fifth of eligible voters 50 years or older that spoke to Abacus said they were digital-only, too.
"Traditional broadcast communications are just not going to reach them," Mr. Coletto said.
Abacus conducted the survey by talking to 2,002 Canadians over the age of 18 through a mix of online panels and live telephone interviews. The data were demographically weighted in line with the general population, and the margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The poll was conducted in January and February of this year.
While the Internet is the fastest-growing media source for information, TV is still narrowly king. When asked about media consumption, 33 per cent of respondents identified television as their primary information source about politics, while 30 per cent said the Internet, 19 per cent pointed to newspapers, 13 per cent said radio and 4 per cent identified word of mouth.
Respondents were also asked about what kind of information they search online. Seventy per cent said they either frequently, fairly often or occasionally looked for political news stories online, while 63 per cent said they searched for information about politicians and 60 per cent said they turned to the Internet to find out what parties stand for.
Digital-only voters were also more likely to want a change in government than other respondents, which Mr. Coletto pegged to demographics. Digital-only voters are more likely to be young, and young Canadians are less likely to support the incumbent Conservative Party.
Despite the digital shift in recent years, parties have still spent most of their advertising budgets on broadcast. According to Elections Canada data, in the 2011 campaign, the Conservatives spent $10.4-million on broadcast advertising and only $167,904 on "other" advertising, the Liberals spent $8.3-million on broadcast and $3.6-million on other, while the NDP spent $9.5-million on broadcast and $1.4-million on other.
In 2014, the parties' most recent annual filings, Conservatives spent $2.2-million on broadcast ads, the Liberals spent $1.4-million and the New Democrats registered no spending on broadcast ads. Under other advertising expenses in 2014, the Conservatives spent $349,865, the Liberals $417,423 and the NDP $196,352.
The digital shift may end up influencing what's talked about during the election. In the first week of the campaign, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper announced through an online video that he was against adding taxes to streaming video services such as Netflix, with the NDP and Liberals also saying they wouldn't bring in such a tax. And the Conservatives' anti-terror bill, C-51, which passed into law earlier this year with the support of the Liberals, was the target of a social media campaign due to the legislation's privacy implications.
The most important change in the campaign that mirrors the change in voters' habits may be the shift from two leaders' debates organized by a consortium of TV broadcasters to a series of separately organized events.
The Globe and Mail is hosting a debate on the economy in Calgary on Sept. 17, in partnership with Google Canada.