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Can Social Media Predict An Election?

When Theresa May called the snap election back in April, it was expected by most experts that the Conservatives would win a large landslide, based on Theresa May’s strong leadership and Brexit plan campaign. However, when we look back over the last 8 weeks of campaigning, we can see a trend in the polls slowly shifting towards Labour and its policies. However, from the beginning, social media showed signs that the election would be a lot more complex than originally met the eye and played increasingly more in Labour’s favour than first thought.

So, how come the polls and analysts missed the mark, whereas social media showed signs that ended up being more accurate?

Firstly, this is a trend which has become more common recently. Social media was ‘blamed’ for Donald Trump’s victory and the Brexit referendum result, as fake news, slander campaigns and unfiltered tweeting made the headlines.

Secondly, current statistics show that we spend 118 minutes per day on social media[1]. On an average day, 79% of all adults use Facebook and 42% use Twitter. Meanwhile of those aged between 18 -25, figures show 36% use Twitter, and 88% use Facebook daily.[2] Therefore, despite both parties using social media advertising to supplement their existing campaigns, it is this demographic which seems to have swayed the election, and this demographic which pollsters and analysts didn’t expect would turn out and vote. However, where the experts failed social media succeeded. As social media indicated that they would turn out.

Even though social media does tend to favour the left of politics, as is seen when you look at some of the biggest influencers surrounding the General Election online, which included Jeremy Corbyn , the Guardian,  the Independent and the grassroots network Momentum. We cannot deny that the Labour campaign strategy changed the message of this election. This was picked up by the polls, but not to the extent it was picked up by social media. At the start of the campaign Brexit was the main focus, with topics such as the NHS taking a back-seat, however fast forward to the final few days of the campaign and the NHS became the most talked about topic by a wide margin. People online read the news, shared articles and shared their opinions, thus spreading the message, which they felt they mostly identified with, and in this election, that was Labour.  Buzzfeed even reported that Labour’s manifesto was the most shared election-related link on social media that week!

23rd April – 30th April

2nd – 8th June 2017

Therefore when it came to polling day, the young voted, with the figures from YouGov estimating that 58% of 18-24 year olds voted, a significant increase compared to previous years. In addition showed 63% of 18-29 year olds voted Labour. It is clear therefore that they voted for the party which had not only been dominating their news feeds for the last 8 weeks, but also the party they believed they identified with the most.

As mentioned previously, both parties for the first time utilised social media. They posted, advertised, targeted, and ran ‘dark social’ campaigns on all social media channels. For example, you may have noticed the promoted hashtag, #VoteLabour on Election Day or the various Facebook and YouTube videos against Jeremy Corbyn. But only one strategy had the desired effect.

Therefore can we say that social media can fully predict an election? No. Social media listening tools aren’t perfect and they can’t pick up everything. But what I have concluded from this election is, social media can gauge sentiment, apathy, and people’s honest unfiltered views, and in the future maybe pollsters should use activity on social media as part of their adjustments, when they predict an election in the future.

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/

[2] https://sproutsocial.com/insights/new-social-media-demographics/