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Impact of social media on voting behaviour


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This is a research project I conducted as part of my internship at MSL India. Please feel free to comment and critique.

This is a research project I conducted as part of my internship at MSL India. Please feel free to comment and critique.

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  • 1. Impact of Social Media onVoting BehaviorA Whitepaper24/5/2013This whitepaper presents the findings of an online research conducted to probe and identify socialmedia behaviours that may influence voting preferences and choices of individuals in real worldparliamentary elections.Shoeb Ahmed KhanIntern – MSL India
  • 2. OverviewSocial Media has undoubtedly carved a place for itself in the lives of people. It cuts acrossboundaries of geography, demography, language and subject. There have been countlessexamples of movements, protests and discussions online that have resulted in the toppling ofgovernments, downfall of brands and celebrity meltdowns. Even companies now allocatebudgets to monitor online conversations about their brand and leverage them to improve theirproducts, customer service and build a positive vibe and recall.Over the last year we have seen a number of trends online that may well affect the outcomeof the elections due to be held in 2014. Be it the NaMo v/s Feku episode or the outcry overthe arrest of two women for tweeting about Bal Thackeray, India is increasingly taking tosocial media to voice its opinion. Politicians and political parties have identified this trend tooand have started developing their social media presence, but are they doing it right? A recentstudy said that most of the political opinion online is pro-BJP as they have spent considerabletime and effort in building their voice on social media.In 2012 the Prime Minister’s office took to Twitter and started tweeting with the handle@PMOIndia. Narendra Modi is the most followed politician on Twitter followed by SushmaSwaraj, Arvind Kejriwal etc. This is still a relatively new phenomenon to India as politiciansin US and Europe have long been using social media as a platform to generate support andpresent their views. The 2008 US presidential election was widely hailed as the Social MediaElection as Barack Obama’s highly effective online campaign consisting of social media,podcasts, mobile messaging etc. led to a landmark victory.In this whitepaper I present the findings of a research conducted online to probe factors thatmay affect voting behaviour and to gather insights into the decision making process of avoter.
  • 3. IntroductionAt the end of 2012, it was estimated that India had more than 150 million internet users,which is the same as the number of television sets in the country. Of this, 65 million areFacebook users and Twitter has an estimated 35 million accounts. A study done by PewResearch says nearly 45% of Indian web users connect on social media to discuss politics (1).So while internet penetration is small (10%), the number of users is rapidly growing and isdominated by first time voters. Between 2004 and 2009, the voting population went up from670 million to 720 million. The number is expected to increase to 800 million by the time thecountry goes to the polls, a greater number of voters than ever before will be 25 years oryounger (2). With elections slated for next year, its a huge vote bank that politicians cantafford to ignore.The Internet and Mobile Association of India’s latest report predicts social media users willinfluence the elections in 160 “high impact” constituencies out of the total of 543constituencies in the next general election. High-impact constituencies are those where thenumber of Facebook users is more than the margin of victory of the winner in the lastelection, or where Facebook users account for over 10% of total voters in a constituency.Another IAMAI report also states that social media usage is spreading fast in areas other thanthe top eight Indian metros. One third of the social media users, as the study reveals, areresidents of smaller towns with population fewer than 500000. Even more significant is thefact that a quarter of social media users are residents of towns with a population less than200000 (2).There are mixed views among politicians about social media’s impact. In an interactionorganised by Google in the capital a few weeks ago, politicians active on social media hadexpressed their scepticism at the ability of the medium to influence elections. Both Ministerof State Shashi Tharoor and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who havelarge followings on Twitter, said that with net penetration of less than 12 per cent, no seriouspolitician can mount a significant poll campaign based on social media, let alone win anelection (3)In Malaysia where traditional media is predominantly state-owned, the Internet is emergingas a new political battleground where alternative online news websites are shaping opinionsof the youth who are increasingly taking to social media to gather information on politicalparties before they go out to vote (4). Back home in Bihar and Maharashtra politicians areincreasingly logging on to Twitter to lure the youth. Nitish Kumar, Ramvilas Paswan, MNS,Shiv Sena and the NCP all have developed an online presence (5)
  • 4. Current ScenarioAn analysis of the social media presence of the two biggest political units in India –Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling party Indian National Congress (Congress)showed the following resultsShare of Voice(1/04/2013 - 20/5/2013)BJPCongress02004006008001000120014001600Tweets Retweets All Tweets#bjp#congress01000000200000030000004000000500000060000007000000#bjp #congressImpressions#bjp#congress
  • 5. BJP’s online presence consists of an official website ( and a sister website( which is their internet TV portal. It is well represented on Facebook(917k likes), Twitter (34k followers) and YouTube. The presence of high profile politicianssuch as Narendra Modi, Sushma Swaraj, Vijay Goel, Rajnath Singh on Twitter futheramplifies BJP’s reach on social media.The Facebook page of BJP has a good mix of content ranging from photos, videos, links tonews articles and posts that are conversational and engaging in nature and relate to currentissues. The posts also contains links to their other online properties and accounts. The Twitteraccount though just reflects the content on the Facebook page along with retweets from thesister account Yuva TV. The frequency of tweets is about 2 tweets per day.This is in stark contrast to the Indian National Congress which is almost non-existent onsocial media apart from the politicians who have active accounts on Twitter. These includeS.M Krishna, Milind Deora, Ajay Maken, Digvijaya Singh etc. What is noticeable is that factthat regardless of their non presence on social media officially, Congress was still beingtalked about in contexts of governance, policies and a range of other current issues butdespite them being the ruling party, their share of voice was lesser than the BJP.The recent war of hashtags between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi that broke out overTwitter and then made news on TV and newspapers is a good indication of how online chatterinfluences the perceptions of a politician in public eye.Research QuestionsBuilding on the basic premise that social media has some sort of influence on an individual’sdecision to vote, the next step was to identify the impact each online medium.RQ1: Does an individual’s social media activity impact his likelihood to vote?RQ2: What is the impact of different factors on this decision?Research MethodologyA survey in the form of an online questionnaire was circulated and 187 reponses wereobtained. The survey period lasted about 4 weeks. 48% of the respondents fell in the agebracket of 24-30, 43% under 18-23, and 7% under 31-40. There was almost an even splitamong genders as 52% respondents were men and 48% women. Majority of the respondentswere graduate and post graduate students (68.8%) while the rest were full time employeeswith organizations.Facebook was used by the most number of people (50%) followed by Twitter (27%), Blogs(12%) and Forums (10%).60% of the respondents had voted at least once while the rest had never voted in any kind ofelection
  • 6. MeasuresA set of 11 variables were identified to measure the possible ways in which an individualcould engage in political-related activities. These were measured on a 5-point likert scale.A set of 7 questions were created to probe the amount of influence different online media hadon an individual’s voting decision. These were measure on a 5-point likert scale.Finally, respondents were asked to rank all sources of political information in decreasingorder of influence on decision to vote.ResultsFactor Analysis was conducted on the 11 variables to reduce the number of dimensions andget a clearer picture of data for use in further analysis. Factor Analysis resulted in a 5 factorsolution.Component1 2 3 4 5FacebookOpinions.823FacebookContent Writing.800FacebookGroups.726Forums andBoards.600Twitter Follow .874Twitter Trends .787TwitterRetweets.764News Websites .895Reading Blogs .642YouTube .894Write Blog .886The five factors were labelled as:1. Online opinions of the general public2. Opinions of the twitterati3. Journalistic Reports4. YouTube Videos5. Content CreationHence we find that these emerged as the five major factors that shape an individuals politicalopinion and ultimately their decision to vote.
  • 7. The factor scores of the above 5 factors were measured. A linear regression was then runusing these 5 factors as independent variables and ‘Likelihood to vote’ as the dependentvariable.Model SummaryModel R R SquareAdjusted RSquareStd. Error of theEstimate1 .299a.090 .061 1.256As seen above, the R square value of 9% indicates that the model does not explain thevariation in Likelihood to Vote. Hence we can conclude that there is no significantcorrelation between the five factors and Likelihood to vote.On being asked to arrange different forms of media in decreasing order of their impact onvoting decisions, the following was obtained1. Television, Newpapers and Magazines2. Radio3. News Websites4. Facebook5. Twitter6. Blogs7. Forums and Boards8. Official WebsitesInsightsThe study found that an individual’s social media activities had no significant correlationwith their likelihood to vote. Coupled with the fact that Television, Newspapers andMagazines were chosen as the media that most impacted the decision to vote we canconclude that the traditional forms of media still play an undeniably important role in shapingthe political opinion of the public.Despite being outranked by traditional forms of media, it is clear that content on social mediadoes impact voting decisions in some way or the other.It was also observed that any kind of advertising (online of offline) has no influence on anindividuals political opinion.Online chatter by the general public on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Forums has aninfluence on an individuals political opinion more than content shared by official accounts ofpolitical parties and politicians.
  • 8. Recommendations1. Social Media should be an important component of a 360 degree election campaign.More than just maintaining presence on social media, it should be monitored toidentify what political topics people are talking about and in what context are partiesand politicians being mentioned.2. Sentiment analysis on topics and keywords would be able to give deeper insights intowhat issues politicians should make a stand on and talk about.3. The research revealed that even though the public does not trust official channels ofcommunication they would still like to be able to find their local politican on socialmedia to be able to voice their issues and make themselves heard. Just like brands onsocial media, it makes sense for politicians and parties to address citizens’ queries onmatters of importance. It is hence an important medium of propagating your mandateto the general public.4. Blue State Digital is a USA based digital agency that carried out Obama’s highlysuccesful relection campaign in 2012. They raised $690 million in donations with4.4M donors. This was achieved through commnity-building, engagement andmobilization program tied in with the offline activities. They created a visual identityfor the campaign - Logos, videos, a website, emails, and social media presence.What this means for MSL India:Social Hive should see this as a possible area to explore in order to differentiate itselffrom other agencies. By pitching to the right clients whose philosophy matches withthat of MSL Group, Social Hive could be amongst the first social media agencies todrive a succesful election campaign in India. It would also establish Social Hive as thego-to agency for running election campaigns. It would also help in creatingtransparency and accountability for politicians as every move of theirs is tracked bythe voters online. It would also undoubtedly increase awareness amongst people aboutpolitical topics and issues of governance.
  • 9. AppendixQuestionnaire1. What is your age?18-2324-3031-4041-5050+2. What is your gender?MaleFemale3. What is your education level?High SchoolUndergraduateGraduatePost Graduate4. What is your occupation status?EntrepreneurFull-time EmployeeStudent / Intern5. Which of the following social platforms are you active on?FacebookTwitterForumsBlogs6. Have you ever voted? (Municipal or Assembly or Lok Sabha)YesNo7. Please indicate below your likelihood to vote in the next elections (Municipalor Assembly or Lok Sabha)Very Unlikely Unlikely Neutral Likely Very likelyLikelihood to vote
  • 10. 8. For each question below, check the box that most represents your level ofagreementStrongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree StronglyDisagreeI actively engage in politicaldiscussions by expressing myopinions on Facebook (on mywall, groups, pages etc)I follow a lot of pages and groupson Facebook that discusspoliticsI write and share political contenton FacebookI follow and regularly read tweetsof politicians and political partiesI tweet and retweet politicalcontent on TwitterI read up on political topics thatare trending on twitterI read a lot of political blogsI blog about political topics thatinterest meI read a lot of opinion piecesabout politics on news websitesI watch videos on YouTuberelated to politicsI discuss politics on variousforums and boards9. For each question below, check the box that most represents your level ofagreement:Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree StronglyDisagreeI might be influenced to vote fora particular politician based onthe content I read about him/heron TwitterI might be influenced to vote fora particular politician based on
  • 11. the content I read about him/heron FacebookThe content on official Facebookand Twitter accounts ofpoliticians and parties is moreimportant than what the generalpublic is saying about themYouTube videos are animportant source of informationto me and affect my decision tovoteThe conversations on forumsinfluence my decision to voteOnline polls influence mydecision to voteOnline banner ads and otherforms of advertising influence myvoting behaviour10. Arrange the following choices in decreasing order of their influence onyour decision to vote. Television Radio Facebook Newspapers/Magazines Twitter Blogs Forums News Websites Official Websites of political parties and politicians
  • 12. References(1)