Social media will undoubtably have some impact on the 2010 general election, and so politicians should certainly take note. Despite a few anomalies, however, it is possible that its full force won’t be felt just yet- or if it is, it won’t be in the way expected (or hoped) by those politicians/ parties utilising it.
Social media and the potential to impact events
The rise of Rage Against the Machine to Christmas number one in 2009 has been well documented as being the result of social media (specifically, Facebook). Social media alone was responsible for 500,000 copies of the single being bought.
2005 general election
Two points to note:
1.) The 2005 general election had a turnout of 27,110,727 voters. Of these, however, there was less than 1 million votes between the top two parties (Labour and the Conservatives).
2.) The percentage of votes per age group increased as age increased:
Politicians and social media
Some politicians have already realised the potential that social media can have on both modivating and influencing people. President Obama was infamous in promoting himself (and his party) through Facebook and other similar sites, and has continued to utilise this media (for example through Twitter). Uptake has so far been lacklustre in the UK, however; a few politicians use sites such as Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter, but there appears to be little that realistically reaches out to those whose automatic action in elections would be inaction.
Bringing the threads together
A basic view would argue that if those who use social media could be motivated towards voting for a certain party in the upcoming election, they could make the difference between a win and a lose (for either of the top two main parties).
It appears much more likely, however, that such users would have a greater impact on marginal parties (which, arguably, social media users are much more likely to get behind). If 500,000 provided support to one marginal party in the 2005 general election, that party would have been the 5th most popular party (after Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems, and UKIP). If there is a hung parliament in the 2010 general election, a 5th placed party could be very influential (depending, of course, on how the voting system influences actual seats).
There is one further point of note in this: are many of those who use social media old enough to have an impact on events such as elections? True, the average age of Facebook users is 33. Is it the younger users that are more likely to take part in/ be influenced by targetted elections campaigning (through sites such as Facebook), however? If this is the case, the true impact of social media on elections may not be realised until the next (2014?) election.
As an aside, perhaps this is further reason to (or not to?) lower the age of voting.
2010 general election