Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Facebook won't really matter at the Election

An interesting post yesterday from promising young Leeds-based blogger Chris Lovell.

Citing Mark Pack's pop-fact that there are now more Facebook users than voters needed to win a General Election, Chris discusses some of the issues.
"Technology will have a huge effect on the outcome of this election amongst certain groups in the electorate. Mainly the young. Although technology should never replace face-to-face campaigning (something, in my opinion, vital to holding politicians to account) it will no doubt play a large part in the 2010 general election campaign."
Chris is right...up to a point. Certainly technology will have a greater impact on the next General Election than any previous one; but not in the ways many people think.

It won't be Facebook or YouTube, MySpace or Twitter. They might have small effects.

Remember that under our wonderful voting system, elections are decided by a small number of floating voters in marginal constituencies. The most popular political blogs might reach 100,000 people in a month, but nearly all will be committed to one party, or if they are undecided most will live in constituencies where it doesn't matter - safe seats for one of the parties.

How many Facebook users in those marginal seats will, because of what they see on Facebook, change their support?

In truth, the parties are a long way from really harnessing Web 2.0 to win elections. They're dabbling and playing, still trying to work out what works. Their current efforts mostly reach out to relatively small numbers of existing supporters. That's OK - these things don't change overnight and you only get better by experimenting. But it's some way from anyone being swept to power on a wave of Internet-based excitement. (Remember the Libertarian Party's blog-based campaign for the Norwich North by-election? 36 votes).

So how will technology effect the next election?

More local campaigning will have a greater effect. Local blogs and emails are no substitute for leaflets through every door, but they'll reach more people because it's much easier to produce material that interests them.

But the real way techonology will effect the next General Election is behind the scenes. Election software like the Lib Dem's EARS gets ever more sophisticated (don't laugh, EARS users). Each year it becomes cheaper and easier to produce high quality literature and to target it effectively.

To give an example, a decade ago it would have been very expensive, complicated and time consuming to produce a leaflet to go out to thousands of people but customised either for each person or for different areas. Today it's fairly trivial and affordable.

The way the parties will track you, record information about you on their internal databases, and use that data to personalise their contacts with you, along with the ability to produce quality localised literature - these are the real ways technology will impact.


Post a Comment