Digital Election campaign swayed 40 per cent of the electorate on 6 May 2010

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4 in 10 of the British public state that online political campaigning influenced their voting intentions to some degree

A clear lesson from this research is that political parties need to avoid repeating past mistakes and jumping blindly on to the latest social media bandwagon.

Online political campaigning during the General Election influenced the voting intentions of over 4 in 10 of the British public to some degree, according to research commissioned by integrated agency Diffusion PR. A survey of over 2,300 people conducted by *YouGov, found that 15 per cent of voters stated that the political content they consumed online had either a ‘fair amount or great deal’ of influence on who they decided to vote for on 6th May, more than enough to have changed the outcome of the last election. The impact was greatest on traditionally apathetic young voters aged 18-24, with digital channels including Facebook, blogs, political websites and email influencing the voting decisions of almost a third (30 per cent) to a fair or great degree.

The 2010 General Election has been rightly dubbed the UK’s first Digital Election with Diffusion’s research finding that 56 per cent of adults reading or seeing political information online during the campaign. Despite the focus on social media, one of the most popular sources for political information online was websites for candidates and political parties, with 19 per cent of the public as a whole and a third of voters aged 18-24, visiting such sites over the course of the campaign.

It appears that blogs and forums played a much more limited role as a source of political information for the general public, with only 11 per cent recalling reading political information on such sites. While ‘online mums’ were courted by Cameron, Clegg and Brown on sites such as Mumsnet, blogs and forums were actually twice as popular among men (15 per cent) compared to women (7 per cent) as sources of political news and commentary.

Social networks:
Twitter was also the subject of a great deal of hype in the run up to and during the election itself, but the research shows that only 5 per cent of UK voters read any political content via the site, rising to only 13 per cent for those aged 18-24. This contrasts with Facebook, which was one of the big winners of the Digital Election with over a third (36 per cent) of those aged 18-24 reading political information on the platform and the most popular single online source of election information for young voters. Facebook also remained influential with those aged 25-34 with almost a quarter of this group (24 per cent) consuming political information on the site.

Online advertising and video:
Online video content was a focus for all the main political parties, however only 8 per cent of the public watched political videos on site such YouTube during the General Election campaign, but this figure is significantly higher at 25 per cent for 18-24 year olds. Online advertising was also a prominent part of the online election campaign, with both Labour and the Conservatives investing in Google AdWords and other online advertising campaigns on key sites. According to the research 12 per cent of adults and a quarter of 18-24 year olds recall seeing online political advertising during the election campaign.

Interestingly, email, one of the oldest and potentially most effective digital channels and one which was a cornerstone of Barack Obama’s campaign, seems to have made minimal impact in this General Election. Only 13 per cent of those surveyed can recall receiving any emails from political parties and organisations in the run up to May 6th.

Daljit Bhurji, managing director of Diffusion PR commented, “The 2010 election campaign was dominated by the novelty of the TV debates but it is clear that digital channels, many also used for the first time in a General Election, influenced the electoral choices of British voters. This was not the Digital Election some had predicted but it certainly was a Digital Election, with online campaigning making an impact with the majority of the public.“

Bhurji continued, “Whether in five years or in five months, the next General Election is likely to see an even greater proportion of campaign war chests invested in online channels. A clear lesson from this research is that political parties need to avoid repeating past mistakes and jumping blindly on to the latest social media bandwagon. The fact that such a small number of voters were reached via a medium as ubiquitous as email suggests that all three political parties need to go back to basics.”

*YouGov survey of 2,322 nationally representative GB adults aged 18 – 55+, fieldwork was undertaken from 12th – 14th May 2010 and the survey was carried out online.

About Diffusion:
Diffusion is the first payment-by-results PR and communications agency built with social media and search at its core. We develop campaigns that integrate traditional media relations and digital techniques and work with market leaders and challenger brands in the consumer, media, technology and public sectors. Our clients experience includes Primark, Coverzones, iPoints and Haymarket. In 2009, Diffusion was named as PR Week’s New Consultancy of the Year. (http://www.diffusionpr.com)    

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Daljit Bhurji

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