Digital Third Party Groups A Force In Ontario Election

Since 2003 when the Working Families coalition burst onto the scene to play a key role in the defeat of the Ernie Eves government, third party groups have been a key part of the last four Ontario elections. In past contests, primarily labour-funded groups have spent millions in TV and radio advertising to defeat consecutive PC leaders: Ernie Eves, John Tory and Tim Hudak (twice).

But since the Ontario Liberals placed tight restrictions on how much third party groups can spend during an election, the real activity has moved away from expensive television ads to engagement on the Internet. For a fraction of the budget, these third party groups are a significant part of the conversation leading up to the June 7th vote.

The most prominent group without a doubt is Ontario Proud, founded by political consultant Jeff Ballingall. With over 363,000 likes, Ontario Proud dwarfs not only other third party groups active in the Ontario election, but even political leaders themselves:

Facebook Fans: Ontario Proud Vs Party Leaders

While the size of the Ontario Proud community is impressive, the reach of the Page is even more significant. Ontario Proud is one of the few online groups that post their engagement numbers from Facebook publicly. We can see that Ontario Proud has greater reach than many media outlets:

Ontario Proud Reach Statistics

In the month of May, Ontario Proud reached over 8 million people and their videos were viewed over 9 million times:

Ontario Proud Engagement Statistics

Ontario Proud’s volume of interactions completely overshadow those of the major political parties on Facebook:

Total Interactions: Ontario Proud Vs Leaders

We see the real power of this community when examining the extent to which they get the word out. Compared to the major parties, Ontario Proud is able to get their community to spread the word for them. 52% of Ontario Proud interactions are shares, versus the next closest, Ford Nation, where 17.8% of interactions were shares.

Interaction Types: Ontario Proud Vs Parties

And while Ontario Proud is the biggest third party group, it is certainly not the only one. While Ontario Proud states it is non-partisan, it clearly is anti-Wynne and anti-NDP.

On the progressive side of the spectrum we have North99 headed by former Liberal digital strategist Geoff Sharpe and Press Progress, a project of the left-leaning Broadbent Institute. Interestingly as we will see, these groups are significantly outperforming the presumably better funded groups financed primarily by unions: Working Ontario Women and Working Families.

Comparing these groups to the three major parties, we see that not only are they significantly more effective at get the word out, they generate a far greater emotional response based on reactions to content (“Angry”, “Wow”, etc).

In comparing the groups to each other, both North99 and PressProgress have higher interaction rates than Ontario Proud. As a percentage, interaction rates (likes, shares, comments, etc.) are helpful as they factor out relative size of the community and only look at what portion of that community is engaged.

Interaction Rate: All Third Parties

Looking at the content, all of the groups have place a large emphasis on visual elements, specifically photos:

Types Of Content: Political Parties + Third Parties

Interestingly, Ontario Proud and PressProgress particularly saw a lot of engagement success with their video content:

Average Interaction Rate By Post Type: Third Parties

When we compare the engagement rate for third parties and the party leaders since the election began, we see a difference in both the volume of content (Wynne and Ontario Proud leading the pack) and interaction rate (Ford Nation still leads):


Average Interaction Rate By Number Of Posts: All Parties

The data clearly shows that third party groups are just as active and having the same (or greater) response as the parties themselves. But actual impact these groups will have on the outcome on June 7th is still an open question.

Ontario Proud, for its part, declared victory on Saturday when Kathleen Wynne conceded the election. As a group that has been anti-Wynne from its inception a few years ago, it is difficult to argue Ontario Proud’s significant reach didn’t factor into Wynne’s strong unpopularity with the public.

As we move into get out the vote efforts in the final days of the campaign, third party groups will be using that same influence to drive supporters to the polls on Thursday.

One thing is clear: 2018 saw a shift in Ontario from traditional third party groups running TV ads to nimble, digital-based third party groups leveraging social sharing to have the same – or greater – impact.