Stephen Logan

How Influential will the Internet be in the UK General Election?

1st Apr 2010 SEO Blog 5 minutes to read

There’s nowhere to hide online. Scrutiny is constant and nothing is sacred. So how will the politicians shape up in the wake of a pivotal general election?

This year marks two momentous junctures in UK politics. Firstly, there is a decent chance we’ll have the first hung parliament following a general election since 1974. Secondly, this will be the first competitive election where the Internet could have a major bearing on the outcome – if indeed there is one.

Monday saw the first of three debates between the major parties. Chancellor Alistair Darling came face to face with opponents George Osborne (Conservatives) and Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat). They responded to choreographed questioning and put forward their individual party’s financial manifesto.

Whilst televised on Channel Four, this was far from the only coverage it gained. Politically minded social media enthusiasts filled the pages with their own correspondence. Howling with derision and heaping praise in equal measure.

This was the first American-style televised debate on these shores and, thanks largely to the Internet, judging its success couldn’t be easier.

Measuring the Outcome of the Chancellors’ Debate

Below I have included the Blogpulse figures from Nielsen. This statistical data relates to the comparative buzz surrounding a number of topics or, as in this case, people.

The chart shows a significant rise for Alistair Darling on March 24th, the day of the budget announcement. This is to be expected of course. However, the next peak, covering the 29th and 30th shows a far closer grouping; this of course is the time of the debate.

From these statistics alone, it is clear that Alistair Darling and George Osborne dominated the headlines in the build up to the debate, whilst Vince Cable took a slight lead in the aftermath. Make of this what you will; however, this is just one of the many online metrics to have suggested the biggest winner was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Twickenham.

Political Trends and Popularity with YouGov

Let’s take YouGov as an alternative resource. YouGov is another online resource that you can turn to for all things political. Their figures tend to be the first port of call for most media outlets when determining voter intention. This currently stands with the Conservatives leading Labour by seven points with 38% of the voting public on their side.

However, their influence Leaderboard tells a different story. Much like Blogpulse, this tracks the level of conversation going on within the site. Positive and negative marks are dished out to create a score based on popularity and volume. Currently at the top of the popularity pile? Vince Cable, albeit with Alice in Wonderland and Lady GaGa close behind [Vince Cable’s dramatic TellYouGov climb | YouGov]. Although, it should be noted that not everybody agrees [Tories take fright from viewers’ reaction to Vince Cable in debate | The Times].

The least popular (for the current month) are Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Katie Price. So again, this highlights not only the comparative popularity of political figures (giving a steer on where voters might be leaning), but also the diversity of topics that the voting public engage with.

The Role of Social Media in the Electioneering

Social media of course is the big player in all this. Whilst bloggers, news providers and independent public poling agencies are able to opinion and fact in equal measure, the voice of the wider society can be found on Twitter and Facebook. These are becoming the new political battlegrounds.

Twitter sparked into political life in the last week with both the budget and Chancellors’ debate taking centre stage. Vitriolic rage was tempered by reasonable discussions throughout the country. The trending topics were dominated by the major parties and associated hashtags.

These sites are the ultimate soapbox. Rather than crowding around in small town halls, the electorate can engage with one another and, in some instances, the politicians themselves to discuss policies. This openness and accessibility has never been possible in any UK election; particularly one that is like to be as keenly fought as the upcoming one.

Politicians have swarmed to create their own presence. David Cameron has his own YouTube channel, imaginatively entitled Web Cameron, as does Number 10 (Gordon Brown) and the Liberal Democrats. Through carefully constructed videos they can ensure that their message reaches out to the electorate in the most direct fashion.

Twitter and Facebook is rife with campaigning. As we covered in Changing Media Landscape: The Rise of Social Media – Part 2, Tweetminster and other services allow an insight into the life of MPs through their Twitter accounts. This could become a vital campaigning tool as we get closer to the election date and those who master the technology could well see significant benefits as a consequence.

In the US of course, millions took to the campaign trail as senator’s Barack Obama and John McCain went head to head. Many saw the Internet as a key ally in Obama’s successful presidential campaign; allowing him to reach out directly through improvised and carefully choreographed Internet-based messages. Could the same be true of politicians here?

Well following David Cameron’s ill-advised, swear-filled rant against Twitter [Cameron’s on-air profanity leaves him looking, er, a twit: Tory leader forced to apologise twice | The Mail] users and Gordon Brown’s clumsy attempts at reaching out through YouTube [Gordon Brown faces ridicule with new YouTube video | The Metro], possibly not. But for the disengaged or undecided voter, getting information and forming opinions has never been easier.

A simple Google search will unearth videos, news results and the latest social media feeds on any politician or party. The power of search engines and their increasing ability to understand a searcher’s intentions will undoubtedly prove an asset in the accessing of information. Although, that said, a simple search of ‘Gordon Brown is’ or ‘David Cameron is’ and Google will give you some fairly unsavoury suggestions – although it does seem to agree that both are idiots. For the sake of parity, I should mention that all Google can muster for ‘Nick Clegg ls…’ is ‘Israel’.

One political gaffe, one slip, one errant tweet and the online community will pounce. The war of words is spreading from The Commons and onto the virtual page. Whatever your political stance, however vocal you choose to be, this will be an election full of engagement and opportunity for all parties.

So whether you’re looking to engage in political debate, find statistics relating to the latest polls or want to get the latest information on policies, the Internet is the place to go. Like at no time before in UK politics, Google, Twitter, YouGov and all other related sites could have a huge bearing on not only the analysis of the campaigns but the outcome itself.

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