It's the selfie election and party leaders have to grin and bear it

The 2015 federal election campaign is shaping up to be the "selfie election,' with adoring partisans eager to get a shot with their leader of choice.

Stop, pose and click: politicians can't avoid it in the age of social media

A Liberal staffer on the campaign trail calls it the "tunnel of love."

It's the moment when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau steps away from the podium and plunges into the crowd.

People are waiting with cellphones in hand to get a picture with Trudeau. He wades in, stops to greet a supporter, grabs their phone, clicks off a few shots and moves on.

Staff are close at hand to grab conventional cameras for a two-shot with the leader for anyone who still uses that technology.

It's an efficient juggernaut of grin, grip and click.

Supporters like university student Karen Gill love it.

"It really makes politics personal," she said at an event in Brampton, Ont., this week. Gill, who studies political science at Western University, was waiting in the crowd, cellphone in hand, to get a selfie with Trudeau.

"We are the social media generation, it's a great way to express our views."

The trend was evident during two recent Liberal rallies.

About a thousand people jammed into a school gym in Mount Pearl, N.L., and the next day about 1,400 came to a rally  in Orleans, Ont., almost all of them carrying cellphones. 

Miraculously, just about everyone who wanted a selfie seemed to get one.

'Closer to the people'

Posing for selfies has become mandatory in politics, according to Diane Pacom, a professor of youth studies and political sociology at the University of Ottawa.

"Especially in North America — politicians cannot avoid it," she said in an interview with CBC News.

The campaigns of 2008 and 2011 were all about YouTube.

But this one "is the selfie election," she said. "It's like signing autographs."

Pacom says pictures shared on social media have taken on a life of their own, essentially replacing political discussion among younger people.

"Their attention span is very short."

CBC reporters travelling with the campaigns of the other two major parties in this election say the campaigns seem to be adjusting to the selfie reality in one way or another.

The NDP campaign allows time for supporters to take pictures with leader Tom Mulcair. But although he doesn't refuse any requests for selfies, Mulcair doesn't seem to hang around waiting to do them either.

That doesn't surprise Pacom, who calls the NDP leader "more austere."

The Conservative campaign is different because, as prime minister, Stephen Harper has much tighter security. People can't just crowd around with their cameras in hand.

Still, the Harper campaign has an Instagram account that shows the Conservative leader in selfie mode with supporters.

Pacom said the leaders also use selfies to their advantage.

"It allows the politicians to appear closer to the people."

She expects that most campaigns build extra time into their schedules because the consequences of not doing it — not having a presence on social media — are worse than being late for the next event.

"The popular culture is so important, even the Pope can't avoid it."


Margo McDiarmid

Parliamentary Bureau

Margo McDiarmid is a Senior Reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau, who focuses on energy, the environment and Indigenous issues.