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Social Media in Selected
Australian Federal and State
Election Campaigns, 2010-15
Axel Bruns and Tim Highfield
Digital Media Research Centre
Queensland University of Technology
Brisbane, Australia
a.bruns | t.highfield @ qut.edu.au
@snurb_dot_info | @timhighfield
http://mappingonlinepublics.net/
INTRODUCTION:
(#)AUSPOL CONTEXT
• Australian politics recently (2007-2015) has been rather
turbulent (unprecedented) – six Prime Ministers in eight
years, including three (successful) internal party spills to
change sitting PMs
• Two-party dominated political landscape: Australian Labor
Party (ALP) – left-ish; Liberal and Liberal-National parties
(conservative); alongside minor parties (Greens, Palmer
United, Katter’s Australia Party)
• Compulsory voting at federal and state levels – encourages
increased awareness of political issues/actors?
• Popular politically-themed programming (Q&A especially)
and associated social media discussions further encourage
Australian political talk
INTRODUCTION:
(#)AUSPOL CONTEXT
• Digital media and Australian politics (including
electioneering)
– ~2007 campaign
• YouTube, MySpace, blogs
– 2010 campaign and beyond
• Twitter, Facebook
• Instagram, Vine…
• This paper draws together our research into Australian
elections and social media (primarily Twitter), at the federal
(2010, 2013) and state (Queensland – 2012, 2015;
Western Australia – 2013) levels
• None of these elections as the social media election, but
rather demonstrative of the changing practices and
patterns of social media use (and platforms) over time, by
politicians, journalists, and citizens alike
#AUSVOTES 2010:
NOT THE TWITTER ELECTION
• Very tight election (21 Aug. 2010):
– PM Gillard (ALP) vs. OL Abbott (Lib)
– No clear winner, ALP minority government formed
after two weeks
• Primary phase of Twitter adoption in Australia
completed:
– Substantial take-up by journalists and political junkies
– Some use by politicians, but still very limited in scope
and style
– Replication of Australian blogosphere’s political
faultlines
• But: significant limitation to netizen in-group
remains:
– #ausvotes debate strongly focussed on Internet
topics: not representative of wider debates
(cf.: Jean Burgess and Axel Bruns. “(Not)
the Twitter Election: The Dynamics of the
#ausvotes Conversation in Relation to the
Australian Media Ecology.” Journalism
Practice 6.3 (2012): 384-402. DOI:
10.1080/17512786.2012.663610.)
#AUSVOTES 2010: KEY THEMES
Internet Filter
National Broadband Network
Refugee Policy
Climate Change
Same-Sex Marriage
#QLDVOTES 2012:
THE TWEETING PREMIER
• Landslide election (24 Mar. 2012):
– Premier Bligh (ALP) vs. quasi-OL Newman (LNP)
– End result: 78:7 seats for LNP – gain of 44 seats
• Well-established national and state Twittersphere:
– Everyday uses beyond political junkies
– Queensland especially well developed following #qldfloods (2011)
• But: party campaigning strategies using social media still quite limited
– 80 of 430 candidates had Twitter accounts
– Anna Bligh’s @TheQldPremier fairly active (~17 tweets/day)
– LNP accounts very quiet: ‘small target’ strategy focussed on avoiding gaffes
– Campbell Newman’s short-lived @CD_Track experiment
– No correlation between Twitter activities around political accounts and eventual election outcomes
• Coordinated handover of Premier’s account:
– @TheQldPremier renamed to @annambligh
– LNP registers new @TheQldPremier account
 Same name, but no transfer of followers
(cf.: Axel Bruns and Tim Highfield. “Political
Networks on Twitter: Tweeting the
Queensland State Election.” Information,
Communication & Society 16.5 (2013): 667-
91. DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2013.782328.)
#QLDVOTES 2012:
BIG TARGETS, SMALL TARGETS
Tweets by leaders
#QLDVOTES 2012:
NECK-AND-NECK? #ONLYONTWITTER
@mentions of leaders
#WAVOTES 2013:
AVOIDING TRAPS
• Stable Liberal government (elected 2008), expected to maintain control in 2013
– First fixed term election in WA, with extended ‘phoney’ campaign from December 2012 to election period
proper in February 2013
• ALP and Greens primary voices online
– Social media to promote initiatives and policies (including transport plans)
• Liberal Party’s position in polls meant less need to engage with social media (which it had not
done extensively previously)
– no need to risk gaffes from (new) candidates, carefully managed media strategy
• Prominent accounts (leaders, issue-relevant spokespeople) subject of @mentions, even if not
official accounts (absent figures still sought out)
• #wavotes shows established patterns of election-related social
media activity
– #[x]votes hashtag
– general increase in hashtag use as campaign progresses
– spikes around debates, major spike on election day proper
(Cf.: Tim Highfield and Axel Bruns.
#wavotes: Tracking Candidates' Use of
Social Media in the 2013 Western
Australian State Election. Paper presented
at ANZCA 2013, 5 July 2013.)
#WAVOTES 2013:
TWITTER ≠ THE ELECTORATE
Greens
Nationals
ALP
Independents
Liberals
Interactions and @mentions between
candidate and party accounts, week
prior to election day
Liberal accounts increased tweeting
activity around election day but behind
ALP and Greens accounts in presence
and activity
#AUSVOTES 2013:
SAVING THE FURNITURE
• Landslide election (7 Sep. 2013):
– PM Rudd (ALP) vs. OL Abbott (Lib)
– End result: 90:55 seats for Lib/Nat – gain of 18 seats
• Fully established national Twittersphere:
– ~2.8 million identifiably Australian Twitter accounts
• Social media seen as part of mainstream campaigning tools:
– ~450 of 1,717 candidates have Twitter accounts, including almost all
frontbench politicians
– Rudd brought back as PM partly because he connects better with voters
through social media, but relatively quiet on Twitter during the campaign
– Particularly strong Twitter campaigning by local ALP candidates
– Strong doorknocking and social media
campaign by independent Cathy McGowan
(Indi), unseating Liberal frontbencher Sophie
Mirabella against the trend
(Cf.: Axel Bruns, Tim Highfield, and Theresa
Sauter. “#ausvotes Mark Two: Twitter in the 2013
Australian Federal Election.” Paper presented at
the Association of Internet Researchers
conference, Denver, 24 Oct. 2013.)
#AUSVOTES 2013:
STILL NECK-AND-NECK?
@mentions of leaders
#AUSVOTES 2013:
DISCOVERING THE LOCAL CAMPAIGN
Tweets by candidates
#QLDVOTES 2015:
UNDOING THE LANDSLIDE
• Another landslide election (31 Jan. 2015):
– Premier Newman (LNP) vs. OL Palaszczuk (ALP)
– End result: 44:42 seats for ALP – gain of 35 seats
– Minority government formed with support of independents
• Uneven campaigning:
– ALP campaign largely fought from outside parliament – no ‘small target’ strategy
– Many relatively unknown ALP candidates, very partial media coverage
– But also: saturated discussion about LNP government’s failures
• Social media have become standard campaign tools:
– 158 of 433 candidates have Twitter accounts
– Strong social media campaigning by rank-and-file ALP candidates
– But: still very unevenly distributed across candidates group
– May also match Queensland’s very uneven population / social media distribution
(Cf.: Axel Bruns. “#qldvotes: A Final Social Media Round-Up.”
Mapping Online Publics, 2 Feb. 2015.)
#QLDVOTES 2015:
DISCUSS LNP, RETWEET ALP
#QLDVOTES 2015:
THE ALP TWITTER CAMPAIGNERS
CONCLUSIONS
• Twitter in Australian elections:
– From Twitterati in-group to mainstream campaign tool
– No relation between candidate mentions and election outcomes
– ALP generally more active than Coalition (Lib / Nat / LNP)
– Coalition has yet to use social media effectively in a tight but winnable election
– Gradual shift of focus from leaders to rank-and-file (in ALP)
 Discovery of social media for local campaigning?
• Australian contextual factors:
– Compulsory voting means focus on swinging middle, not voter mobilisation
– Small parties active on social media, but systematically disadvantaged
– Turbulent politics (6 PMs in 5 years) means few ‘normal’ campaigns in recent years
• Platform limitations:
– Gradual development of social media research tools and methods
– Difficult (so far) to replicate our approach for platforms other than Twitter
– Facebook campaigning might work differently – but strong local focus likely there, too
 Next #ausvotes probably in mid-2016 – hoping to track Twitter and Facebook then
FOR MORE – COMING SOON:
Tim Highfield. Social Media and Everyday Politics. Cambridge:
Polity, 2016.
and
Tim Highfield and Axel Bruns. “Compulsory Voting, Encouraged
Tweeting? Australian Elections and Social Media.” In…
THE FULL COLLECTION:
Axel Bruns, Gunn Enli, Eli Skogerbø, Anders Olof Larsson and
Christian Christensen. The Routledge Companion to Social Media
and Politics. Basingstoke: Routledge, 2016.
Six continents. 37 chapters. 66 contributors. ~550 pages. #socmedpol
http://mappingonlinepublics.net/
@snurb_dot_info
@timhighfield
@socialmediaQUT – http://socialmedia.qut.edu.au/
@qutdmrc – https://www.qut.edu.au/research/dmrc
This research is funded by the Australian Research Council through Future Fellowship
FT130100703, and by a QUT Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellowship.

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Social Media in Australian Elections

  • 1. Social Media in Selected Australian Federal and State Election Campaigns, 2010-15 Axel Bruns and Tim Highfield Digital Media Research Centre Queensland University of Technology Brisbane, Australia a.bruns | t.highfield @ qut.edu.au @snurb_dot_info | @timhighfield http://mappingonlinepublics.net/
  • 2. INTRODUCTION: (#)AUSPOL CONTEXT • Australian politics recently (2007-2015) has been rather turbulent (unprecedented) – six Prime Ministers in eight years, including three (successful) internal party spills to change sitting PMs • Two-party dominated political landscape: Australian Labor Party (ALP) – left-ish; Liberal and Liberal-National parties (conservative); alongside minor parties (Greens, Palmer United, Katter’s Australia Party) • Compulsory voting at federal and state levels – encourages increased awareness of political issues/actors? • Popular politically-themed programming (Q&A especially) and associated social media discussions further encourage Australian political talk
  • 3. INTRODUCTION: (#)AUSPOL CONTEXT • Digital media and Australian politics (including electioneering) – ~2007 campaign • YouTube, MySpace, blogs – 2010 campaign and beyond • Twitter, Facebook • Instagram, Vine… • This paper draws together our research into Australian elections and social media (primarily Twitter), at the federal (2010, 2013) and state (Queensland – 2012, 2015; Western Australia – 2013) levels • None of these elections as the social media election, but rather demonstrative of the changing practices and patterns of social media use (and platforms) over time, by politicians, journalists, and citizens alike
  • 4. #AUSVOTES 2010: NOT THE TWITTER ELECTION • Very tight election (21 Aug. 2010): – PM Gillard (ALP) vs. OL Abbott (Lib) – No clear winner, ALP minority government formed after two weeks • Primary phase of Twitter adoption in Australia completed: – Substantial take-up by journalists and political junkies – Some use by politicians, but still very limited in scope and style – Replication of Australian blogosphere’s political faultlines • But: significant limitation to netizen in-group remains: – #ausvotes debate strongly focussed on Internet topics: not representative of wider debates (cf.: Jean Burgess and Axel Bruns. “(Not) the Twitter Election: The Dynamics of the #ausvotes Conversation in Relation to the Australian Media Ecology.” Journalism Practice 6.3 (2012): 384-402. DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2012.663610.)
  • 5. #AUSVOTES 2010: KEY THEMES Internet Filter National Broadband Network Refugee Policy Climate Change Same-Sex Marriage
  • 6. #QLDVOTES 2012: THE TWEETING PREMIER • Landslide election (24 Mar. 2012): – Premier Bligh (ALP) vs. quasi-OL Newman (LNP) – End result: 78:7 seats for LNP – gain of 44 seats • Well-established national and state Twittersphere: – Everyday uses beyond political junkies – Queensland especially well developed following #qldfloods (2011) • But: party campaigning strategies using social media still quite limited – 80 of 430 candidates had Twitter accounts – Anna Bligh’s @TheQldPremier fairly active (~17 tweets/day) – LNP accounts very quiet: ‘small target’ strategy focussed on avoiding gaffes – Campbell Newman’s short-lived @CD_Track experiment – No correlation between Twitter activities around political accounts and eventual election outcomes • Coordinated handover of Premier’s account: – @TheQldPremier renamed to @annambligh – LNP registers new @TheQldPremier account  Same name, but no transfer of followers (cf.: Axel Bruns and Tim Highfield. “Political Networks on Twitter: Tweeting the Queensland State Election.” Information, Communication & Society 16.5 (2013): 667- 91. DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2013.782328.)
  • 7. #QLDVOTES 2012: BIG TARGETS, SMALL TARGETS Tweets by leaders
  • 9. #WAVOTES 2013: AVOIDING TRAPS • Stable Liberal government (elected 2008), expected to maintain control in 2013 – First fixed term election in WA, with extended ‘phoney’ campaign from December 2012 to election period proper in February 2013 • ALP and Greens primary voices online – Social media to promote initiatives and policies (including transport plans) • Liberal Party’s position in polls meant less need to engage with social media (which it had not done extensively previously) – no need to risk gaffes from (new) candidates, carefully managed media strategy • Prominent accounts (leaders, issue-relevant spokespeople) subject of @mentions, even if not official accounts (absent figures still sought out) • #wavotes shows established patterns of election-related social media activity – #[x]votes hashtag – general increase in hashtag use as campaign progresses – spikes around debates, major spike on election day proper (Cf.: Tim Highfield and Axel Bruns. #wavotes: Tracking Candidates' Use of Social Media in the 2013 Western Australian State Election. Paper presented at ANZCA 2013, 5 July 2013.)
  • 10. #WAVOTES 2013: TWITTER ≠ THE ELECTORATE Greens Nationals ALP Independents Liberals Interactions and @mentions between candidate and party accounts, week prior to election day Liberal accounts increased tweeting activity around election day but behind ALP and Greens accounts in presence and activity
  • 11. #AUSVOTES 2013: SAVING THE FURNITURE • Landslide election (7 Sep. 2013): – PM Rudd (ALP) vs. OL Abbott (Lib) – End result: 90:55 seats for Lib/Nat – gain of 18 seats • Fully established national Twittersphere: – ~2.8 million identifiably Australian Twitter accounts • Social media seen as part of mainstream campaigning tools: – ~450 of 1,717 candidates have Twitter accounts, including almost all frontbench politicians – Rudd brought back as PM partly because he connects better with voters through social media, but relatively quiet on Twitter during the campaign – Particularly strong Twitter campaigning by local ALP candidates – Strong doorknocking and social media campaign by independent Cathy McGowan (Indi), unseating Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella against the trend (Cf.: Axel Bruns, Tim Highfield, and Theresa Sauter. “#ausvotes Mark Two: Twitter in the 2013 Australian Federal Election.” Paper presented at the Association of Internet Researchers conference, Denver, 24 Oct. 2013.)
  • 13. #AUSVOTES 2013: DISCOVERING THE LOCAL CAMPAIGN Tweets by candidates
  • 14. #QLDVOTES 2015: UNDOING THE LANDSLIDE • Another landslide election (31 Jan. 2015): – Premier Newman (LNP) vs. OL Palaszczuk (ALP) – End result: 44:42 seats for ALP – gain of 35 seats – Minority government formed with support of independents • Uneven campaigning: – ALP campaign largely fought from outside parliament – no ‘small target’ strategy – Many relatively unknown ALP candidates, very partial media coverage – But also: saturated discussion about LNP government’s failures • Social media have become standard campaign tools: – 158 of 433 candidates have Twitter accounts – Strong social media campaigning by rank-and-file ALP candidates – But: still very unevenly distributed across candidates group – May also match Queensland’s very uneven population / social media distribution (Cf.: Axel Bruns. “#qldvotes: A Final Social Media Round-Up.” Mapping Online Publics, 2 Feb. 2015.)
  • 16. #QLDVOTES 2015: THE ALP TWITTER CAMPAIGNERS
  • 17. CONCLUSIONS • Twitter in Australian elections: – From Twitterati in-group to mainstream campaign tool – No relation between candidate mentions and election outcomes – ALP generally more active than Coalition (Lib / Nat / LNP) – Coalition has yet to use social media effectively in a tight but winnable election – Gradual shift of focus from leaders to rank-and-file (in ALP)  Discovery of social media for local campaigning? • Australian contextual factors: – Compulsory voting means focus on swinging middle, not voter mobilisation – Small parties active on social media, but systematically disadvantaged – Turbulent politics (6 PMs in 5 years) means few ‘normal’ campaigns in recent years • Platform limitations: – Gradual development of social media research tools and methods – Difficult (so far) to replicate our approach for platforms other than Twitter – Facebook campaigning might work differently – but strong local focus likely there, too  Next #ausvotes probably in mid-2016 – hoping to track Twitter and Facebook then
  • 18. FOR MORE – COMING SOON: Tim Highfield. Social Media and Everyday Politics. Cambridge: Polity, 2016. and Tim Highfield and Axel Bruns. “Compulsory Voting, Encouraged Tweeting? Australian Elections and Social Media.” In…
  • 19. THE FULL COLLECTION: Axel Bruns, Gunn Enli, Eli Skogerbø, Anders Olof Larsson and Christian Christensen. The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics. Basingstoke: Routledge, 2016. Six continents. 37 chapters. 66 contributors. ~550 pages. #socmedpol
  • 20. http://mappingonlinepublics.net/ @snurb_dot_info @timhighfield @socialmediaQUT – http://socialmedia.qut.edu.au/ @qutdmrc – https://www.qut.edu.au/research/dmrc This research is funded by the Australian Research Council through Future Fellowship FT130100703, and by a QUT Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellowship.