POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS IN A DIGITAL AGE

Ed. Note: This post, by Kaustub Bhati, is a part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2016.

The digital media, be it the digitalised version of 24×7 print media, the social networks or the instant messaging. The internet, much like the radio in its era, has radically altered who is electable. Before the digital landscape arrived, there was a vividly different set of candidates who would win that don’t have even a chance of winning now. Academic research has consistently found that people who consume more news media have a greater probability of being civically and politically engaged across a variety of measures. In an era when the public’s time and attention is increasingly directed toward platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, scholars are seeking to evaluate the still-emerging relationship between social media use and public engagement. The Obama presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and the Arab Spring in 2011 catalyzed interest in networked digital connectivity and political action.[1]

A motivated group of people with a targeted message can, with the right approach, build mass support and make a huge impact on political or commercial issues. The charm of the internet for grassroots campaigners is comprehensible –millions of people who can be identified by their interests and concerns, and reaching them is cheap and easy. From the consumer’s standpoint, technology like Twitter and Facebook make it much easier than ever to join a campaign or take action for a given cause.[2] Digital campaigning is all about gathering the right information and using it to inform consistent, targeted communication. The best thing about digital campaigning is that while your follower base may be geographically dispersed, online they will have a tendency to cluster together around their collective interests and concerns. This makes them easier to access – searching for Facebook groups or like-minded tweets is a lot quicker than knocking on 10,000 doors.[3]

The Barack Obama campaign was the first political campaign in history to truly harness the clout of social media to spread the word, reap support and get people involved. The Obama campaign reached 5 million supporters on 15 different social Networks over the course of campaign season; by November 2008, Obama had approximately 2.5 million (some sources say as many as 3.2 million) Facebook supporters, 115,000 Twitter followers, and 50 million viewers of his YouTube channel. The campaign team didn’t just create a facebook page and a youtube channel and expect things to kick-off themselves rather they created an environment of energy and participation, imbued in the participators a sense of purpose which enabled people to connect in real time and show their support.[4] No other presidential candidate has ever been able to integrate digital media with campaign propaganda this effectively, resulting in its major contribution to the way to Oval Office. The Obama campaign exemplified the massive, evocative impact that social media can have on getting young people engaged and involved. Mybarackobama.com was not simply a website; it was a crusade that made politics accessible through social media people were already using every day. It altered the face of political campaigns forever; but even more so, it made getting involved as easy as opening up an internet browser and creating an online profile.

Narendra Modi’s campaign team has used some very innovative and timely decisions that has helped give high visibility and add potent muscle to the election campaign using the digital media. They understood the consumer insights using various survey data’s and concluded that Brand Modi was greater than Brand BJP and banked on this in their campaign. They came up with extremely catchy slogans and bombarded them through various advertisements, messages and radio broadcasts. They were catchy, easy and everybody could say them and articulate with them and hence bond with the individual on a personal basis. The various radio programs such as chai pe baat aimed at interaction with the agrarian workers and twitter replies helped facilitate the successful inclusion of these classes in the supporter base.

The largest and best-known inquiry in this turf so far is a 2012 study published in the journal Nature, “A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization,” which proposed that messages on users’ Facebook feeds could significantly impact voting arrays. The study data advocated that certain messages endorsed by friends “increased turnout directly by about 60,000 voters and indirectly through social contagion by another 280,000 voters, for a total of 340,000 additional votes.”[5]

Hence, in a digital age, where everyone is connected every second of their lives and effective media teams, focused campaigns and a barrage of propaganda to stir the sub-conscious at the decisive time has become much easier and affordable, tapping this massive pool of resource should be a must for candidates in any political elections to grow a steady and reliable support base through the extensive use of communication technologies available at their disposal.

[1] How does social media use influence political participation and civic engagement? A meta-analysis, http://journalistsresource.org/studies/politics/digital-democracy/social-media-influence-politics-participation-engagement-meta-analysis

[2] Mark Wallace, Grassroots Campaigning in the Digital Age, http://www.portland-communications.com/publications/the-quarterly-issue-4/grassroots-campaigning-in-the-digital-age/

[3] Id.

[4]  Juliet Eilperin, Here’s how the first president of the social media age has chosen to connect with Americans, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2015/05/26/heres-how-the-first-president-of-the-social-media-age-has-chosen-to-connect-with-americans

[5] How does social media use influence political participation and civic engagement? A meta-analysis, http://journalistsresource.org/studies/politics/digital-democracy/social-media-influence-politics-participation-engagement-meta-analysis

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