July 16, 2015 Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Congratulations to King’s Political Science professor, Dr. Andrea Lawlor, and her colleague, Erin Crandall of Acadia University on being awarded a SSHRC Insight Development Grant valued at $60,087 for their project, entitled "Third Party Election Spending: Weak Policy, Weakened Engagement”.

Summary of Proposal

Across democratic countries, politically interested individuals and groups underutilize policy opportunities that would allow them to change election outcomes. Often, it is the most underserved in society (those living in poverty, newcomers to Canada, Aboriginal groups and the not-for-profit sector who represent many of these (among other) interests. In Canada and the United Kingdom, campaign activism through third party participation (persons or groups other than a political candidate, registered political party, or constituency association, who participate in elections) is a legal, viable channel to impact vote outcome independent of political parties, yet it is rarely used. Subject to the most generous contribution limits in Canada, third party campaign contributions are a clear channel for participation of many groups who lack the political clout or the financial strength to contribute through more frequently used channels, such as forming alliances with political parties. Yet, over the last decade, third parties in both countries have systematically spent below their designated limits, have participated in smaller numbers, and generally speaking, have not used the available participatory options available to them. The result is an election process dominated by parties, almost devoid of the voices of interests representing non-partisan issues.

This new program of study looks to answer why third parties tend to avoid regulated election advertising. While a small number of recent studies have offered some insight on this question in Canada (Couture Gagnon and Palda 2011; Jansen and Young 2009; Pross 2013), this project will be the first to provide an in-depth analysis of third parties’ motivations in choosing whether to advertise during federal elections in Canada and the UK. To do so we will:

Produce a cross-national policy evaluation of the structure and rules of each country’s election finance regimes to determine to what degree third party regulations can enhance or impede democratic participation (theoretical grounding);

Perform a performance audit on third parties’ expenditures and motivations across six elections in Canada (2008, 2011, 2015) and the UK (2005, 2010, 2015) to validate to what degree third parties’ behaviour conform with policy opportunities (empirical observation);

Investigate whether and to what extent unregulated channels, like the online distribution of information, particularly social media, are being used by third parties to participate in elections (collection of original data);

Reach out to existing and potential third parties in the political activism space to determine whether they are aware of the opportunities available to them to participate in the political arena, and share with them information of how to do so using low-cost, high-impact issue-oriented participation (public outreach).