With just 17 days until the country goes to the polls, today is your last chance to to register to vote, so if you haven’t yet done so, what are you waiting for? For our political parties, this is also the last chance to scoop up any potential supporters who have so far not got themselves down on the electoral roll.
In pushing out the ‘get yourself registered’ message, the parties, have focused much of their efforts on social media. With 63% of voters now on one social media platform or another, this is no surprise. However, with more and more campaigning presented to us as hashtags, likes, shares, memes and gifs, how successful a party is at turning their popularity on social media into votes is critical.
Recent history shows us that social media plays a significant role in the modern election, with the 2015 Tory election campaign, Vote Leave’s EU referendum campaign and Donald Trump’s ascendency to the US Presidency all demonstrating that an effective campaign on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram can yield real results at the ballot box.
Looking at the raw numbers, Labour appear to be winning the 2017 social media battle with nearly 800,000 Facebook and 400,000 Twitter followers, 200,000 more than the Conservatives on each platform. Labour’s manifesto, albeit with a few days head start on its rivals, was also shared more than 63,000 times on both Facebook and Twitter, nearly four times more than the Conservatives’ document. While from afar these numbers look impressive, and it would certainly seem that Labour strategists have got their social media machine in full gear, lessons from the EU referendum, Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and the involvement of data analytics companies, such as Cambridge Analytica, tell us that the devil is in the detail.
For political campaigns on social media, what is crucial is not the number of individuals viewing your content but who they are and where they are from. As the 2015 Tory campaign in key marginal seats showed, a targeted approach is far more effective than a broad-brush following. While the then Labour leader, Ed Miliband, enjoyed a strong general following on Facebook and Twitter, particularly among younger voters across the country, only 43% of them actually turned up to vote for him. Whereas, through their more targeted approach, the Conservatives, albeit spending ten times more than every party put together on their social media activity, reached 80% of users in key marginal seats. With marginal seat swings proving so crucial for David Cameron’s victory in 2015, the importance of targeted social media campaigning is compelling.
Two years on and what have today’s political parties gleaned from past experience? A recent survey showed that Labour voters were the most likely to rely on social media for their information, with one-in-five supporters of the party saying they now get most of their information about political parties in this way. By contrast just 10% of people planning to vote Conservative use social media as their main source of information. This time round, it seems that most parties have got this message and are now employing the successful Tory tactics of 2015, with Facebook so far proving to be the crucial battleground for marginal seats. While the true effect of social media on this election won’t be known until after 8 June, it does appear that the Labour social media surge hasn’t yet translated into the polls, with the Tories still enjoying a 9 to 20-point lead across the board.
Regardless of what happens in just over two weeks’ time, this election will also likely force the Electoral Commission to consider the relevance of its rules for political campaigning via social media. Following the 2015 election and the 2016 EU referendum, the authority cannot afford to continue to ignore the increasing calls for reform.
Ahead of the final count of 8 June, what is clear is that political campaigning on social media is here to stay and while the extent of its effect on this election remains to be seen, how our political parties use social media will continue to be a bellwether for success in both this election and beyond.
Main image by Hamza Butt