The Hidden Traffic and Ad Insights from the 2021 Canadian Election Campaigns
As the 2021 Canadian federal election campaign comes to a close, parties are winding down their online canvassing for election day. In the months to come, there will be many post mortems and analysis of what worked and what didn’t this time around.
National campaigns in the digital age leave behind a wealth of data, and each party will parse through their donation rolls, ad traffic, and engagement metrics. Much of these numbers will be kept behind closed doors, yet the internet offers regular people an array of tools to glean interesting insights without the need of the party disclosure.
The first, if imperfect metric of campaign success is party website popularity. There are plenty of ways for people to form an opinion of each party without actually visiting their official websites, but they remain a key source of information and method of gauging support. They are where the full party platforms live, where donations can be received, and in the case of the Liberals and NDP, are the domain on which all of their official candidate websites are hosted.
While the official traffic and engagement data is only available to the parties themselves, publicly available digital marketing tools offer reliable external data on much traffic each site received.
Amazon’s Alexa Ranking offers data about a site’s global internet rank, or the number of websites around the world that have more traffic and engagement — time spent and number of pages visited — than it does. It also displays how that ranking has moved day by day. In the case of the five major Canadian parties, this relative change offers some striking insights.
Below is a time graph, from a week before the election was called on August 15th, to two days before election day, September 18th. It assesses five websites: liberal.ca, conservative.ca, ndp.ca, greenparty.ca, and peoplespartyofcanada.ca.
Just about every party gained a strong bump in traffic and engagement after the election call, but some far more than others. The Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP website performed relatively within expectations. The incumbent party lead the way, followed closely by the Conservatives and then the NDP.
In contrast, there’s a huge increase in ranking for Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada website. It climbed more than any other party, eventually resting above even Conservative.ca. This is despite Bernier’s lack of appearance at the national debates, and the party’s relatively fringe positions among the major parties.
Second, compared to the other parties, the Green Party’s position barely moved. Its traffic and engagement levels are virtually the same as they were before the election call — not a good sign.
The next publicly available metric that can reveal party momentum is digital ad spend. Paid advertising has come intense scrutiny since the 2016 US Presidential election, culminating in Facebook’s decision to publicly disclose all ad data to the public via their Ad Library. With this tool, it’s possible to see every live Facebook and Instagram ad that a page is running, as well as that page’s total ad spend.
While the Internet is vast and opportunities for businesses to launch regular advertising is virtually limitless, in the case of political parties the options are smaller. Google doesn’t allow any political advertising on its Search and Display platforms during Canadian federal elections, cutting off a large chunk of the web.
That leaves Facebook — and its Ad Library — to host the large majority of Canadian political ads. The subject was brought up in late August in a Globe and Mail article investigating the large amount of spending that the official Liberal Party page was doing in the opening weeks of the campaign. The key insight there was the during the first week of the election the Liberals greatly outspent their competitors.
What’s happened since then? Unfortunately the Ad Library only discloses the total historical spend and the period of the preceding week, but using clues from the Globe article and the current total spend numbers, it’s possible to estimate exactly how much money each page has spent over the whole campaign.
From the period of August 16th to the 22nd as cited by the Globe and Mail, the official page spends were as follows:
That same day, the cumulative historical spend for the Liberal Party page was $2,020,004, the Conservative Party had spent $2,354,588, the NDP had spent $779,265, and the Greens had spent $63,080.
Fast forward to the latest data available the day before election day, ending September 16th. Now, the historical spends are $3,935,830 for the Liberals, $3,741,371 for the Conservatives, $2,082,154 for the NDP, and $67,885 for the NDP. Deducting the spends from the first week of the campaign, the difference between the two historical spends, and thus the total amount each page has spent in the last four weeks are:
The big insight here? The Green Party has spent a shockingly small amount of money on Facebook ads, and by extension online paid advertising in general. Even combining the $1000 spent on leader Annamie Paul’s personal page, the total is a rounding error next to the big three.
This adds another layer to the charge that the Green Party is seriously clipping its wings in terms of outreach. The Conservatives and NDP on the other hand have made up ground on the Liberals, though are still behind.