Cast your minds back to 2010, to the birth of the General Election Television Debate (in the UK at least). It was also, for those who can remember, when the Lib Dems were last popular, with Nick Clegg coming out on top, by quite a margin, for all three of the broadcasts – “I agree with Nick”. For the BBC, ITV and Sky, the debates were viewed by 8.4, 9.4 and 4.1 million people respectively, but more importantly, the usage of social media – specifically Twitter, following certain hashtags allowed viewers for the first time to directly interact, comment and give opinion on what was being said – a live national commentary that analysts were able to interpret into a consensus on the successes and failures of the arguments of Gordon, David and Nick. With an extended ‘special edition’ of the TV debate for this year’s general election to include UKIP, the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, interaction of social media is expected to heighten even further.
Reportedly, the Tories have employed the services of the deadly combination of Lynton Crosby (notorious ‘evil genius’ and mastermind of several campaigns in Australia and Boris Johnson’s successful London Mayoral election in 2008) and Jim Messina, who, campaigning from his base in the US, was a key part of Barack Obama’s presidential re-election in 2012. With a £79 million campaigning fund at his disposal, Cameron will ignore the benefits of a strongly funded social media effort at his own risk. Notably, Messina is fully aware of the role technology can play, stating, “If you win the fight of the future, you win the campaign” – referring to the $5 million spent on an app called ‘Dashboard’ which permitted users to view a 30 second clip of Michelle Obama, then connected them to Facebook contacts, who were undecided voters. In just the last hour of the polls being open, the app was used by five million people, with 78 per cent of them going on to put their support behind Obama.
More often than not, it’s the young who have to live longest with enduring political change, but at the same time are consistently the most apathetic demographic in terms of electoral turnout. When used correctly, the efficacy of aggressive social media campaigning is evident – see the 2014 Scottish Referendum – and with the 18 – 24 age bracket interacting with social media the most, the rewards for tapping into this traditionally non-voting group is clear. In addition, you could argue that since 2010 – people have started to become turned off from party politics and the traditional three parties, hence the rise in popularity of UKIP, the Greens and the SNP, but also a growing pool of those who are undecided, of which campaign directors will be desperate to target. News no longer appears first on television, let alone in the papers – with stories, petitions and pledges broadcast nationwide over Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and even Snapchat. Moreover, social media response in terms of data, comments and hashtags to events during the general election won’t just provide a running commentary, but will actually be integrated into the ‘traditional’ formats of media – the television, radio and newspapers, such is the importance of them.
With the likelihood of the Conservatives or Labour forming a majority government fast becoming a reality, a hung parliament is looming once again and Cameron and Miliband will already be eyeing up potential political partners to prop their executive into power. The television debates for this year’s general election, now a crowded platform in its new format, will hear opinions and policy from parties across the UK, both regional and national. 2010 was simply a preface. Be prepared for a hard-hitting, strongly funded social media campaign. Every party recognises that traditional British politics has been turned on its head, there are no guarantees, no outcome being taken for granted, with every seat mattering to scrape that all-important majority or to bolster your political ranks to hold the post-election balance of power. So will it still be “I agree with Nick? Or even Nigel or Nicola or Natalie?”.
By – Editors discretion.
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