Marketing by Canadian Political Parties

Lay Summary 

Worldwide the use of commercial marketing techniques in politics has made for a sophisticated and expensive game. ‘Political’ marketing is an organization’s consideration of marketing intelligence to inform its political strategy and tactics, particularly for advocacy or electioneering purposes.

In Canada, the influence of inputs such as survey and focus group data on decisions related to outputs ranging from policy products to persuasion tactics has been growing since the Liberal party first experimented with scientific polling in the 1940s. The competitive need for informed decisions has increased as the affordability and accessibility of technology has improved. Often such innovations are used to structure targeted fund raising campaigns to finance the ability to collect data, to respond to it, and to sell the party’s product(s). Marketing may be used by political parties and their local franchisees between and during election campaigns as well as internally such as during leadership contests, policy conventions and local candidate nominations. Parliamentarians, governments, interest groups and non-governmental organizations such as charities may use it in response to emerging situations or as part of cyclical events such as throne speeches, public awareness campaigns or fund raising drives.

This paper addresses three questions: How do Canadian political parties use political marketing? To what extent does this follow or diversify from the way it is used by the rest of the world? What is the impact of Canadian political marketing on the quality of democracy? It begins with a theoretical discussion, which leads to the categorization of political campaigns as amateur, semi-professional or professional. The criteria within this model, such as the use of marketing research to design strategy and to implement it tactically, are then explored in a review of electioneering by Canadian political parties during the 1993 and 2006 election campaigns. This analysis provides a perspective of the political marketing evolution of Canada’s major parties, noting issues or problems in practice. This review also highlights the importance of geography, provincial party organizations, minority governance, state financing and technological growth as variables in Canadian political marketing.

Competitive political organizations in liberal democracies have been evolving from mass parties that foremost address the needs of partisans to catchall parties that seek to appeal to flexible partisans. As ideological underpinnings, principles and party bosses make way for issues-based management, malleability and political consultants, we are seeing technology-enabled permanent campaigning that prioritizes marketing activities over a market orientation. Over time as public participation declines, as our understanding of elector behaviour improves, and as technology evolves we may see more study of political marketing by Canadian party organizations. Attention needs to be turned away from what parties are doing to how they can do it better and, more importantly, to how they can use political marketing to enhance the nature of their representation of citizens.

Working Paper presented at the Political Studies Association political marketing workshop Session 4, Comparative party marketing strategy March 30 – April 1, 2010, Hotel The George, Edinburgh

Political Science
St. John's
Newfoundland and Labrador
Political Parties
Industry Sectors 
Scientific Research and Development Services
Public Administration
Start date 
1 Jan 2010