Archive for May, 2010

After it became evident, in November 2008, that the use of social media had a huge impact on the US presidential race, and that Barack Obama had benefited greatly from it, pundits and politicians in other Western democracies like the UK  started to come to terms to the magnitude of the Democrats’ feat, and the possible applications for their respective political arenas. The recent UK election was evidence of a leap, however small or slow, towards this kind of digital efforts. The Conservative Party in the UK had a lively Twitter feed before, during and after the election, and as the likely winner will have to keep in touch with its voters. As of today (May 8th), the feed is followed by slightly over 32,000 users, which is still a small figure if you consider the entire mass of citizens in conditions to vote.

Contrarily, the Labour Party, which due to its more liberal agenda could be expected to make a wider use of social media, has a surprisingly smaller number of followers in its Twitter feed. They have HALF the followers, which crushes previous assumptions derived from the US experience that liberal Internet users are more likely to use the web for political purposes, either in partisan efforts or to seek political information (Hindman, The Myth of Digital Democracy, 2009). The UK 2010 UK election should be studied to analyzes and dissected. Are Conservatives in the UK more prone to open a digital dialogue with candidates and incumbents than voters more inclined to the left?

In 2008, in their article “Lessons of the US Digital Campaign” published in Renewal, Anstead and Chadwick noted how “[the] 2001 and 2005 British general elections offered scant evidence of online campaigning”. The small numbers in both Twitter feeds lead us to believe that the gap has not been breached, and some assumptions (which need scientific, methodical proof) can be drawn. Some questions can, too, be presented: was the US success story in direct relation with the cult of personality around Obama and the such? Are young people in Britain –they represent the majority of Web savvy individuals– disenfranchised from politics? Is Internet access more widely available to the wealthier Conservative pool?

Maybe the US academics and party strategists can learn from the British experience as well. As reported in a recent article published in The Washington Post, the Republican Party is presumably going to adopt the grassroots schemes employed by the Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections, and in the 2012 presidential elections. Gathered around the Mother Patron of the WASPs, Sarah Palin, they are, so the gossip goes in Washington, about to launch a big online apparatus to counteract against Obama’s own VOTE 2010 platform. A column, the conquering of the digital frontier, that belonged solely to the Democrats, could very well change hands.