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Social Media and Elections: Likes for votes?

With social media costing just a fraction of the price of traditional media coverage, it’s not surprising to see local politicians jumping on the bandwagon. Every major, and not so major, political party now utilises a range of social media to communicate and engage with voters. While its use continues to grow within the political sphere it begs the question: Can likes, follows and fans translate to votes? Vote_Social-Media Since Barack Obama’s first campaign in 2008 social media has quickly become an essential part of any election strategy. While Australian politicians’ social media behaviour is still relatively unsophisticated compared with their US counterparts every election sees an escalation in the use of social media. The online battle in the current Queensland election has quickly become one of the most important for both major parties. While shaky at first, politicians are now more apt in their day-to-day social media routines, with tweeting and posting becoming normalised. However, there is still a lack of evidence that would suggest that likes or followers mean votes. We’ve seen in both Australia and the US that having thousands of followers doesn’t necessarily predict a win. For example, Arizona politician Fred Duval with his 30,000 followers should have easily defeated rival Doug Ducey in 2014 and his comparatively smaller following of just 18,000. However, when it came to voting day Ducey was announced as Governor. Kevin Rudd’s strong social network proved to be one of the key factors in his 2007 victory over John Howard but didn’t help him when he was trounced in 2013 by Tony Abbott (or when his own party trounced him in 2010). Prime Minister Abbott has always been relatively conservative in his use of social media and managed to win the election despite having less than half the followers of Rudd. With applications such as Twitter transforming the face of modern day newsgathering, user generated content has become increasingly valuable to the media. Having grown to be a readily accepted means of reporting, social media allows news outlets and the general media to formulate a social commentary of important people and events. However, the problem lies where the media often confuses the social media environment as a reflection of broader community views; therefore if you can win the online audience, the media can incorrectly assume you are also winning the entire audience. While there are plenty of exceptions to these examples it does highlight that social media figures are not always the be all end all to a campaign. While Facebook likes may not always translate in the polls, it doesn’t hurt to have an impressive online presence. Social media cannot only help highlight the pressing issues for the electorate but it can help parties and candidates fundraise and mobilise for an overall more effective campaign.