For decades politicians have fought to gain a foothold in the crucial 18-24 demographic. No longer is this just a matter of having a photograph taken with a pop star or well-known celebrity, but instead a strong presence on social media is becoming a necessity in order to connect with young voters.
These changes in electioneering were most recently evident in the French Presidential elections earlier this year. Both Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy fought to gain the younger population’s vote by using social media – notably Twitter – it may just be coincidence that Hollande (the winner) had over 100,000 more Twitter followers than Sarkozy.
Why is it so important?
A strong social media presence is now a must for any self-respecting politician; whether they agree with it or not, they are going to have to accept it if they want to win. If you cast your minds back to the 2008 US Presidential elections, then you’ll remember that this was probably the first time that social media was coordinated en masse for a political campaign. The way that Obama was able to mobilise huge numbers of voters that had been apathetic in their approach towards politics proved decisive. He was able to use the huge user base of Twitter and Facebook to reach out to previously disaffected voters.
The same effect could be seen this year in France; both candidates had a social media presence but Hollande used his with considerably more skill than his opponent. His social media campaign helped him to win a lot more votes from young voters (before the election he was polled at 25% of young voters to Sarkozy’s 17% [Le Monde]), which helped him to win the election.
Saying that, I do accept that both my examples were favourites going into their respective elections and that their policies were generally more attractive to youthful voters. However, young voters would not have been so aware, if it was not for the politician’s online presence which allowed voters to engage with their policies on a more personal level.
Social media also gives politicians a useful platform to show a more easy going and relatable side to their personalities – they can comment on sports results or their favourite TV shows. These are things that they couldn’t really bring up in a television interview or at a campaign rally – but are becoming an important way of showing the human side of the political world.
What does the future hold?
Soon every politician will have their own Twitter account, not just the younger ones, if you don’t have an online presence you will be out of touch with the public and out of the election race. This is already starting to happen in most Western countries including the UK; politicians become a Twitter celebrity which boosts the amount of publicity they receive as well as bringing them to the attention of their superiors.
Do not be surprised to find Twitter and Facebook being used extensively from now on. Their vast amount of users and trendy image give politicians a brilliant platform to run a campaign from. However, whether those using social media now will be as embracing of politics straying in to their social networks remains to be seen…