Labour’s use of social media during the general election campaign is a sign of things to come
“This is probably the first election where social media will probably have a significant impact,” said Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s joint national elections coordinator during the general election campaign. It turns out that he was right. The Labour Party’s performance in June’s general election surpassed many expectations. The party gained 30 seats, while the Tories lost 13, completely eradicating Theresa May’s hopes of a majority in the House of Commons. Particularly interesting about Labour’s gain was the share of the youth vote; it managed to attain 64% of the votes of full-time students, according to research by YouGov. Additionally, The Economist’s poll tracker revealed that there was a 46% swing to Labour among under-25s.
The main driving force behind Labour’s surge, especially amongst younger voters, appears to the use of social media during the election campaign. Many young voters are active social media users, and thus the effective use of these online platforms can make a good recipe for a sound election performance in the modern politics. There is precedent for this; some cite an effective online presence as one of the crucial factors behind the Leave campaign’s success during the referendum campaign in 2016.
If so, how exactly did Labour’s digital strategy manage to cause such a political upset for the Tories? There are a number of factors. The first was that Labour used social media far more frequently than the Conservatives did during the campaign. The official Twitter and Facebook accounts for Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, made almost a thousand posts during the campaign and received around 3 million shares. In comparison, Mrs May’s accounts posted just 159 times and those were shared drastically less. The effect of this was that Labour’s policies and slogans were projected for more broadly and frequently, reaching more young voters and generating a greater following. Mr Corbyn’s followers on Facebook and Twitter grew 45%, whereas Mrs May’s increased by just 20%. It was no wonder that #VoteLabour trended on Twitter on polling day.
But, using social media frequently does not always guarantee election success. After all, Labour still failed to gain a majority in the House of Commons for the third election in a row. Also, in 2015, Labour made great use of Twitter during the election campaign and still lost badly.
However, during this election campaign, it was also the manner Labour used its great presence on social media which really swayed youngsters its way. One way it achieved this was spending money wisely when it came to targeted online advertising. The Conservatives spent more on ads targeted at soft Labour voters and less on their own core supporters. Data from Who Targets Me?, which is an online tool that tracks political advertising on social media sites, showed that the Conservatives focused more on new audiences attacking Labour’s policy and Mr Corbyn’s leadership potential in particular, rather than defending the parties own policy stances.
This strategy did not appear to work for the Tories for the simple reason that the ads the party were projecting were not ineffective in generating much support online among young voters. They seemed to quite unresponsive to the negative campaigning of the Conservatives. This was not so for Labour. Mr Corbyn was successful in portraying himself as a politician who actually understood young people, and constantly conveyed messages of hope and positivity, but also relatability. He achieved this by making good use of SnapChat, embracing the image-sharing platform and appearing next to famous faces amongst the youthful populace. A video where JME, a grime artist, interviewed Mr Corbyn circulated widely on Facebook. This proved quite effective in convincing many young people that Mr Corbyn was a candidate with an edginess and youthful rapport, a sharp contrast from Mrs May’s rigidness.
Given all this, it is perhaps little surprise that Labour was so successful with the young vote. But such political tactics are a sign of things to come. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook will very soon become the dominant battle arenas for people’s votes and change the landscape of political campaigning. Labour’s achievements in the ‘digital election’ will most likely be a template for others to follow. The importance of social media in politics is now undeniable.