Web inflates youngsters’ interest in election

Almost half of first-time voters are taking greater interest in next month’s General Election because of the proliferation of political information available online, although Facebook and Twitter’s influence won’t be as strong as predicted.

A survey of 18-25 year-olds, commissioned by new media age and conducted by Lightspeed Research, found 46% of those aged between 18 and 21 believe increased political activity online has stimulated their interest in the election, with the figure at 41% for 22-25 year-olds.

Likewise, 60% of 18-25 year-olds look more favourably on election candidates if they actively use online channels including blogs, Facebook, Twitter and mobile alongside official party information.

Despite the influence of emerging online channels, they’re not considered as authoritative as traditional platforms such as TV, newspapers and leaflets.

TV is the first place 44% of 18-25 year-olds expect to hear political party news, compared with just 5% who said Facebook and 1% who said Twitter. This is despite an increased presence on Facebook and Twitter by the main political parties, while Facebook itself has launched a subsite, Democracy UK, to capitalise on the perceived interest in politics on the platform.

The research comes as all parties make significant increases to their electioneering activity ahead of polling day on 6 May in what has been described by many political commentators as the first digital General Election.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal-Democrats have all launched high-profile integrated campaigning activity, with online engagement with new voters high on the list of priorities (nma 7 January 2010).

Labour party activity includes paid search campaigns around core election topics, such as climate change and the recession, while last month the Conservatives launched an online campaign to reinforce key pledges made in its technology manifesto (nma 11 March 2010).

Last week the Liberal-Democrats rolled out a guerilla marketing campaign online to undermine the messages of Labour and the Conservatives (nma.co.uk 1 April 2010).

All three party leaders – Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg – will also be taking part in webchats during the next month.

Conservative Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the survey showed how online can rouse interest from new potential voters.

“The internet and all forms of digital communication will play a key role in this General Election and we believe our pioneering digital work will hold us in good stead over the coming weeks as both committed supporters and new voters connect with us online,” he said.

Mark Hanson, Labour’s new media strategist, said, “Online makes it easier for activists to campaign without the direct involvement of party headquarters and for voters to see what a candidate is really like through more use of video or to find the information that they need in order to make their decision. This will be a big driver in terms of getting people interested and involved.”

Anthony Painter, a political commentator and associate at political thinktank Demos, said despite online and especially social media not being perceived as equal to offline media in terms of influence, parties must understand how each influences the others.

“The web shouldn’t be seen as separate from other forms of political communication; it’s part of a broader piece that enables you to campaign and communicate in a slightly different way,” he said.

Others expressed surprise at how social platforms like Facebook aren’t seen by young first-time voters as being as influential on their decisions as previously thought.

Ralph Risk, Lightspeed Research EMEA marketing director, said, “It’s very interesting to see that TV and newspapers are still the first point of call, while Facebook and Twitter come a long way behind.

“I think the difference is that people looking for updates will go to a variety of sites, but when they want accurate information it’s more likely hat they’ll go to more established sources,” he added.

But despite online generating more interest in the election, the research also showed just over half (52%) of 18-25 year-olds feel there wasn’t enough information online to help them choose who to vote for.

Anthony Wells, associate director at YouGov, said this highlighted a potential failing by political parties.

“Any party information, including manifestos, is available online, but it’s not necessarily well flagged up or easily digestible,” he said.

This story first appeared on newmediaage.co.uk

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