New Brunswick

N.B. could be model for election campaigns in the midst of COVID-19

New Brunswick could set the stage for future election campaigns across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, a Saint John policy analyst says. 

Meeting voters face-to-face is typically a campaign's 'bread and butter,' but that won't be the case this year

New Brunswickers are heading to the polls Sept.14 in a provincial election. (CBC)

New Brunswick could set the stage for future election campaigns across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, a Saint John policy analyst says. 

It's been two days since the Sept. 14 election was called and candidates have hit the ground running. But Katie Davey says this could be the most digital campaign New Brunswick has ever seen.

"In a normal election, a ground game is everything and particularly in a close election." said Davey, the host of the Femme Wonk podcast and book club who also works at a national policy think tank in Ottawa.

"In many ways, of course, this is an unprecedented election."

New Brunswick will be the first province to have an election since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Green Party has said it will campaign door to door but will follow distancing protocols. Progressive Conservative candidates have already said they will not campaign door to door or leave paper material in mailboxes. 

"This is going to change the campaign," Davey said.

A risk of misinformation

Before COVID-19, she said, election campaigns across democracies have been working on sophisticated tactics to meet voters face to face.

"On a local campaign … that's your bread and butter, that's what you spend all of your volunteer resources on," she said.

Although social media is more affordable and can reach a wide array of new voters through retweets and shared posts on Facebook, not everyone is online.

"You're only going to meet so many folks on social media and you're not going to be able to have one on one conversations with them in a meaningful way." she said.

Meanwhile, the algorithms of a person's curated news feed on Facebook or Twitter could also impact what they see online.  

Although social media is more accessible, Katie Davey, host of the Femme Wonk podcast, says not everyone can be reached in an online political campaign. (Facebook)

"You're also seeing 'tons and tons of disinformation spread and that seems to be amplified during elections," she said. 

"And not only that, it's amplified right now in the face of COVID-19, we're seeing 'tons of health and science disinformation spread."

Door-to-door motivation

And while some candidates have already suggested holding outdoor events, Davey said those door-to-door interactions are most important because they target voters who weren't aware of an election or weren't sure who they would vote for.

Losing the door-to-door and other personal touches during the campaign could hurt smaller parties or newer candidates, since they may have less money to spend on advertising.

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Davey said the best way to motivate a voter is through face-to-face conversations, and motivated voters can raise the turnout and change the outcome of the election.

"Those are the voters that are a bit harder to reach and those are the voters … if you have that one-on-one conversation it's actually much easier to encourage them to vote."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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