It’s a text message many Calgarians and Canadians are now familiar with receiving, launching with the greeting “Hi, it’s Sarah from the Conservative Party.”
As the federal election approaches, the unexpected texts attempting to gauge voter support have prompted some recipients to take to social media and voice their concerns about privacy.
But as Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt notes, targeting voters through their smartphones is not a surprising tactic for parties during political campaigns.
“The stakes are high and so they’re usually on the cutting edge of new technology,” Bratt says. “This is not a new development. Computer systems and voter I.D. systems and social media systems — those have all been adapted over the years.”
One local Conservative MP seeking reelection is even making use of her own smartphone app to get information directly to voters. Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel’s platform engages users with her campaign, providing updates on event dates and volunteering opportunities.
“It’s just a reality that having a digital presence is a necessary part of having communications and communicating with the electorate,” she says.
“Everybody consumes information differently. There’s people in my community that want to hear from me at a town hall (forum), so we put on a town hall. There’s people in my community that want to interact with me by phone, picking up the phone or sending an email.”
Kent Hehr, Liberal MP for Calgary Centre, says politicians have to employ both traditional tactics, like knocking on doors, and digital ones, like having a presence on various social media channels.
“Well there’s no doubt you have to get information to people through Twitter and Facebook and Instagram,” he says. “They want to know about how government policy intersects with their lives.”
The challenge facing politicians is not always having the free-flowing conversation that the doorstep allows. Twitter only allows 280 characters per tweet, and key verbal cues can be missed.
Nevertheless, Rempel says the campaign is about having a presence “in every possible way that somebody could want to engage with me.”
“And that’s why, you know, we’re spending a minimum of six to eight hours a day helping the community on the door,” she says.
Calgarians can expect to see both those digital and door-knocking efforts ramp up before Canadians head to the polls on Oct. 21.