BC NDP spent 10 times as much on social media ads before election call
VANCOUVER -- Two days after the declaration of a snap election, CTV News has learned that the BC NDP has spent 10 times as much as the BC Liberals and about 85 times more than what the Green Party did on Facebook advertising in the week leading up to the election call.
Between Sept.15 and 21, the New Democrats spent $31,233 on sponsored posts while the BC Liberals shelled out $3,180 and the Greens bought just $367 worth. As part of its push for advertising transparency, Facebook had a publicly-searchable "ad library" so anyone can see who's paying for access to their news feed.
With in-person campaigning is severely limited due to pandemic control measures, the political parties will spend a lot of time and effort reaching out to voters on social media — even more than in past elections.
"Like with anything else during the pandemic, this has really accelerated the amount that a campaign will exist online just like the pandemic has accelerated how much all of us are working online," said University of British Columbia history and communications associate professor Heidi Tworek.
Facebook has the ability to target its advertising on certain users based their interest in issues or categories, but won't say whether voters in swing ridings can be targeted by postal code, for example.
- Read more: Who's putting political ads in your news feed?
But Tworek points out social media ads aren't just about convincing people how to vote.
"Actually what ads are often about is mobilizing people who already support you to go out and vote and I think this is where ads would be very crucial during this pandemic because they're going to have to inform people how to vote and how to vote safely," she said. "It can also be exploited in problematic ways, but it can also be very helpful because it enables you to reach your voters where they're at to speak to the issues that interest them."
While they lagged in the week before the election, over the past 15 months, the Liberals far outspent the governing party with $131,139 going to Facebook's coffers while the NDP spent $63,713; the BC Greens spent $6,671 from June 10, 2019 to Sept. 21.
Twitter no longer allows political advertising on its platform.
When it comes to war chests to reach voters through paid advertising on platforms that allow it, or finance traditional lawn signs, the NDP has raised $1,434,592.36 this year while Liberals have pulled in $921,607.98 and the Greens are sitting at just $248,165.10 from Jan. 1 to Sept. 21. Those sums are reported by Elections BC through its Financial Reports and Political Contributions System and represent interim political contributions from Jan. 1 to Sept. 21 of this year.
"I think there's a tendency by political parties and others to over-emphasize the impact of ads," cautions Tworek, noting a big bank account doesn't always pay off at the ballot box. "I think we have to be very careful in equating the amount of money spent on online ads with the number of votes."