Although the unofficial campaign has been underway for many months, the formal writ drop this morning signaled the official start to the Ontario provincial election. All party leaders are now considered equals – each having to play by the same rules, vying for the attention of the media and voters as the countdown to Election Day begins. Cabinet ministers and incumbent MPPs also started today as nothing more than mere candidates among a cast of many throughout the 107 ridings across Ontario.
As average voters tune-in (and out) for the next 30 days, the parties, candidates and their campaign machines will be going non-stop pushing out their messages and pushing back on their opponents. And while election basics haven’t really changed for the most part in the past 20 or 30 years – appeal to voters, denigrate the other team and then get your vote out – the growth of the internet, social and new media, twenty-four hour TV news networks and the speed by which information now travels have all drastically transformed campaigns. Parties and their campaign “war-rooms” have now become 30-day communication machines, working around the clock in this new atmosphere to get out their message and to undermine that of their opponents.
Technological advances have also meant that parties and politicians have become more scripted and risk-averse and understandably so. A misguided tweet, an inadvertent comment on a Facebook page, or candid moment caught on cell phone video can spread with lighting speed and change the course of a campaign sending a party into frenzy as it struggles to contain the damage. On the other side, parties troll the internet, Twitter, Facebook, search through Google and send campaign workers to electronically record their rival’s every move for that very reason.
What impact all of this has on voters is not entirely clear. Much of the political battle is fought in a world of its own – inhabited only by politicos, partisans and the media. Either way, expect to see much of it in the early days of the campaign. What will happen on October 6 is still anyone’s guess.