Lewis' digital surge translating to real-world momentum

While Erin O’Toole leads Q2 donations, and total unique donors and Mackay leads in terms of the total money raised, Lewis has taken the clear lead in terms of the most important numbers, highest unique donors in Q2, as well as highest number of donations made.

Ali Taghva Montreal QC

Editor's Note: The original version of this article mistakingly stated that Lewis had the highest number of unique donors. She, in fact, had the highest number of unique donors in Q2, as well as the highest number of donations made.

Earlier this month, I wrote about Dr. Leslyn Lewis’ rapidly growing digital campaign to win the leadership of Conservative Party of Canada.

At the time, Facebook data showed that Lewis’s underdog campaign had effectively managed to beat each of her competitors in terms of per post engagement, while also rapidly approaching the O’Toole campaign in total engagement. She did this while spending only $300, which is only 0.5 percent of O’Toole’s, and 0.25 percent of Mackay’s total spending on Facebook ads.

Given the massive growth in social media engagement, many, including myself, wondered just how much of that digital voice would convert into real support. With second quarter fundraising now largely publicized in a report by Globe, the impact is finally on display, and the results are stunning.

While Erin O’Toole leads Q2 donations, and total unique donors and Mackay leads in terms of the total money raised, Lewis has taken the clear lead in terms of the most important numbers, highest unique donors in Q2, as well as highest number of donations made.

The massive donor lead Lewis gained during the second quarter is the strongest sign that her campaign has gained on-the-ground momentum, and thereby also a path to winning the race.

This is primarily because of the way the Conservative Leadership race is designed. In order to win, a candidate must secure 50 percent +1 of points, allocated to ridings across the country. If no candidate secures 50 percent +1 on the first ballot, the last place candidate is removed, and the votes of their supporters redistributed based on how they ranked each candidate.

Every riding is worth the same 100 points, regardless of the number of votes cast in the riding. So, individual votes from ridings with fewer members are actually worth more than a riding with a large number of voting party members.  

As a result, so long as no candidate wins in the first ballot, the candidate with the broadest support—including in areas where Conservatives lose—tends to pull through. We saw this occur in the last race, where Andrew Scheer, the second place on the first 13 rounds of voting, eventually squeaked through on the 14th ballot with less than 51 percent of the available points.

In this situation, it seems more and more likely that there will be no first ballot win as Peter Mackay, the candidate predicted to finish ahead, now has fewer donors than both Lewis and O’Toole, and finished second in terms of total donations in the second quarter.

In many ways, it seems polling released in May by Mainstreet research, which Mackay voters would be open to considering O’Toole, just as O’Toole voters would be open to considering Lewis, has seemingly been confirmed.

While this is a great sign for Lewis, there remain two serious problems, for her campaign.

Firstly, while Lewis has made a strong showing, she has a serious problem with Mackay voters, who would pick O’Toole over Lewis by large margins. In the case where Lewis does make it as second, it’s quite likely Peter Mackay would have to be third, giving O’Toole a large number of voters.

Secondly, this voting split is further amplified to the detriment of Lewis, by the very same rules around broad support. This is primarily due to the unique characteristics of Quebec, the only majority speaking French province in the country, and the location of the second most number of points available, right after Ontario.

In Quebec, I have been told Lewis continues to remain behind both her competitors, likely due to her limited ability to speak the language. A total loss in Quebec could kneecap just about any campaign.

Taken together, there are, at best, a few paths to victory for Lewis. She could finish first in the first ballot, and rely on O’Toole voters who are evenly divided between Mackay and Lewis, to push her over, or for Mackay voters to make a fairly large shift in their preferred voting habits.

While I wouldn’t hold my breath for the second of those paths, the truth is that the election has fundamentally changed since the field was first whittled down to the final four. At the start of this race, not many expected Lewis to even meet the fundraising or signature requirements to avoid disqualification.

Even as she met those requirements, the general conversation in both the media and the party remained around Peter Mackay and Erin O’Toole. Today, with almost two months left until the end of this race, Lewis certainly can’t be counted out.

Given this momentum, where do you think she’ll be on August 21st?


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