The new era of Shopping for Votes


Are you a Tim Hortons voter or a Starbucks voter? Are you a Dougie, or a Jane, or a Zoe? Whether you have the answer or not, the nation’s major political parties are hard at work trying to place you into one of their micro-targeted categories of the voting market. Susan Delacourt is a senior political writer at the Toronto Star, and in Shopping for Votes she outlines the way marketing and consumerism has pervaded Canada’s political landscape.

When did ‘citizens’ get reduced to ‘taxpayers,’ and when did voting start to be seen as less of a civic duty and more of a consumer choice? As Canadians became 24/7 consumers, we began to demand similar things of our government as we do from businesses. Politics is no longer viewed as a public service where elected officials work to improve the overall well-being of society, but a business in which there are clearly defined deliverables and the target market is people who will potentially vote for you. 

Moving from the 1950s to present day, Delacourt guides the reader through the defining stages of political marketing in Canada and explains that in the current political climate of constant campaigning, parties must place their main focus on marketing and branding. They focus on swing voters, who essentially shop for their vote each election and cast their ballot to support the party that will save them more money at the cash register. There is an emphasis on simple language, emotional imagery, and memorable guarantees that will win over Tim Hortons voters.

Advertising has become a constant priority of the Harper Conservatives, and they have spent more than any other government on advertising for programs such as their Economic Action Plan, while aiming to paint their party in a favourable light. And let’s not forget the attack ads that would never work for a consumer product, but seem to be fair game in the world of politics. This difference has raised some important questions about advertising standards and whether they should be applied to political parties as well as businesses. 

It is very interesting the way Delacourt directly links marketing and data analysis to the Liberal Party’s dramatic defeat in the last federal election. Their vision of broad policies that apply to Canada’s middle class did not work in an age of targeted campaigning and boutique tax cuts that appeal to small segments of the population.

Anyone interested in politics will find this an enjoyable read, and it will leave you with plenty to ponder as we head into a federal election next year.