DECIDIS-Election blog #1: People follow people, not parties on Facebook?

By Sander Schwartz

This Wednesday the Danish prime minster announced the date of the Danish National Election (18th of June) and with this act she also launched the official election campaign.

As stated in our previous post, our research initiative DECIDIS-E will follow the digital media campaign closely by monitoring social media activity primarily on Facebook and Twitter while also keeping an eye on other platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat.

In 2011, Facebook dominated the social media campaign in Denmark for the first time. Before 2011, especially blogs were popular amongst politicians to create an online presence, but since then this platform has largely been replaced by social network sites likely because Facebook and Twitter are simply easier to use, are short in form, potentially reach a larger audience and therefore offer great potential for (re)connecting with citizens.

Politicians have been struggling for a long time with declining party loyalty and support. The number of people who are members of a party is declining and the amount of swing voters is increasing. Politicians can no longer take support by citizens for granted and this creates an incentive for new and competitive political campaigns.

In 2011, more than 50% of the Danish population was on Facebook and since then the numbers have only increased (though there are signs that the younger audience is less active). While Twitter is slowly gaining more attention from professionals, Facebook is without a doubt still the most obvious place for politicians to engage with the citizens. According to the most recent study from DR (Danish Broadcasting Organization), only 4% of the Danish population is active daily on Twitter whereas 59% is active on Facebook every day.

The structure of Facebook encourages the individual presence of the politician instead of communication through and with their political party. By creating an individual profile, the politician can establish a more direct connection with each citizen, which is not unlike the connection between private profiles of friends and family. Through the Facebook page each candidate can communicate a more personal story which shows a human side of the politician. The platform creates a potential to tell a new story which contrasts how the traditional media often presents politicians as calculated and aggressive adversaries fighting each other for power. Of course during the election campaign the communication becomes highly strategic, which also means more focused political content and less stories outside the campaign narrative.

Here is an overview of how many citizens who follow each party in comparison to the number of citizens who follow the party’s top candidate. There is a striking difference between the number of followers of parties and the number of followers of the top candidate in the parties of Ø, A and V. The reason for this is most likely that all the other main candidates measured are new in their position as top candidate for their party. This is a serious challenge because the new contestants will have to build their audience throughout the campaign. But following the logic of personalization on Facebook, by the end of the campaign, it is likely that the number of followers of the candidates will have increased significantly more than the number of party followers

Facebook followers May 27th 2015
red = top candidate page or profile – blue = party page
Follower graph
Click image for larger version

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