The role of the Internet grows every election. Soon its uniqueness will no longer be unique. It will play an even bigger role in an election than it currently does.
There is going to be a national election that is going to be about the Internet the way that 1984 was about TV for the first time with Congress and TDP debate. That hasn’t happened yet. Best guess would be 2014, but could be 2019. The spending will tip, and the campaigning methods will change.
What the catalyst is for that is anybody’s guess.
It might be social media, it might be live streaming high-definition video, it might be an AMA [ask me anything] on Reddit — or some new form of micro-targeting of voters — or some new form of lifecasting. Already, there is ample evidence testifying to the extent of the digital impact on the rival campaigns. It’s no stretch to suggest, that Indian General Elections 2014 may go down as the Social Media election.
On April 4, Rahul Gandhi’s address to the Confederation of Indian Industry, a leading business forum, was trending topmost on Twitter in India that day, some posts by contendersdefying him.
A series of lectures by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, a presumptive PM, this week too garnered strong social-media attention, with his and Gandhi’s supporters competing online to run the other down.
A deeply polarizing figure still, Modi is often accused of watching over a carnage that killed nearly 2000 people in 2002, mostly Muslims. Yet, he has pulled off a stunning online strategy to showcase Gujarat as India’s Guandong, a south China province with top GDP rankings and investment.
In 2008 American Presidential Elections, then-candidate Obama’s use of Facebook to reach voters was widely covered because it was so new. Facebook, which had only just left Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room during the 2004 election, boasted more than 100 million worldwide users when the 2008 election came around. Facebook became a way for Obama to reach young people and to set himself apart from his far older Republican opponent, John McCain.
It was still a novelty and a sidelight, using Facebook to drum up political support. That’s why Obama owned the space as much as he did. Now everybody is sure of it.
No doubt, in 2014 General Election campaigns in India will lean on Facebook and Twitter heavily to reach potential voters. Using Facebook is as obvious as running TV ads. After all, Facebook now boasts more than 71 million users in the India alone.
Importantly, Facebook can influence voters. A recent study, led by the University of California at San Diego and based on the 2010 election, found that peer pressure mattered: People seeing that their friends had voted did, in fact, make them go to the polls.
Twitter, however, is a different story. Twitter was a toddler during the 2009 Indian General Elections, a tool used almost entirely by the tech world that had yet to burst into the mainstream.
Yet Twitter has proven itself an invaluable tool in election seasons. In a study Twitter conducted after the first presidential debate, the company said that people exposed to any kind of political tweet were 98 percent more likely to visit a donation page as the average person on Twitter.
For good reason: Social media is where voters are, and it’s where they express themselves. A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study found that 66 percent of the adults using Twitter and Facebook do so in part to conduct civil and political activity. Ignoring that audience would be foolish.
In future elections, these tools will doubtless become more integral to elections; savvy politicians will focus even more on Twitter strategies. They’ll spend a large chunk on social media and, eventually — as Andreessen mentioned — the Internet overall will dominate in the way that television did this year.