Just hours before the final TV debate ahead of the general election, all political parties are seeking to exploit social media tools to garner more votes
With opinion polls showing how close all parties are, the last TV debate is assuming even more political importance than ever. Traditionally, these TV debates have also triggered a torrent of online activity.
The Red Rose
According to the Financial Times, the Labour Party is to turn the home page of its website over to Twitter’s 140-character comments from MPs, candidates and rank-and-file supporters. It has also done with this with the two previous debates.
The website will also be used to issue Labour Party campaigners with instant rebuttals to comments made by David Cameron and Nick Clegg. According to the FT, this material is only usually sent out to journalists from Labour’s press team.
Another innovation from the Labour Party is a “debate prep book”, containing reminders of Gordon Brown’s economic policies.
“Twitter can be overwhelming at times like this, with over 200,000 tweets during the debate last week,” said Mark Hanson, a Labour strategist, speaking to the FT. “Our dashboard is aimed at helping our supporters to navigate through what is being said.”
However, not everything always goes to plan online, for Labour. Earlier in the campaign twenty-four year old Stuart MacLennan was dropped as Labour candidate for Moray in Scotland, after making a number of abusive tweets.
Meanwhile the Conservative Party has largely eschewed Labour’s approach with its website, although they will be deploying their Twitter heavyweight in the form of Party Chairman Eric Pickles.
Instead, it is understood that the Conservative Party is focusing on buying Google search advertisements, in an effort to grab traffic from viewers watching the TV debate who are looking for more details of the policies being discussed. The FT said the Tories will also buy new search terms on Google’s AdWords system during the debate, based on what questions are asked.
The FT says that while Labour would also like to use Google, it lacks the budget to match the Tories’ investment.
E-Voting To Counter Voter Apathy?
Meanwhile it seems that voters are increasingly keen on the idea of electronic voting, instead of walking to their local polling station to cast their ballot. The 2010 Virgin Media Business E-Politics study found that the number of voters backing a digitised ballot card system had jumped from 19 to 43 percent since the last election in 2005.
However, text voting via mobile phones has been given short shrift, with only 26 percent of people questioned in the study seeing it as making them more likely to vote. In fact, 15 percent said texting would make them less likely to vote.
But it seems that politicians would do well to explore more innovative ways of communicating with the electorate, with voters demanding more communication from candidates, across more channels than ever before. It seems that email was the most popular choice of contact channel, selected by nearly half (47 percent) of voters, up from 7 percent in 2005. The next most popular communication channel was via more traditional channels such as the post or through local media, with 42 percent backing this policy.
Only three percent of respondents wanted communication via Twitter, with 11 percent asking to be contacted by Facebook.