Political parties are digital followers not leaders

Behind the Digital Campaign examines the work done by the political parties’ digital teams in the build up to the 2010 election. It demonstrates how their strategies have been influenced by digital campaigns in other countries and outlines the development of the ‘perpetual campaign’. It concludes that while the internet unlikely to lead to dramatic changes in the electoral landscape in this election, there are some noteworthy aspects to the general election digital campaign:

  • UK political parties are largely followers not innovators
  • Digital media is more effective in personality-led campaigns than party-led campaigns
  • Expenditure and experimentation during the pre-election period has led to the ‘perpetual campaign’ building communities of supporters to mobilise during the election period
  • Third-party and single-issue digital campaigns are more likely to increase political participation and knowledge
  • Social networking tools influence political activists, insiders and the media – stories generated on blogs and Twitter generally only reach the public when mainstream media take them up

Behind the Digital Campaign tracked online activity in the UK European elections, London Mayoral elections and a series of by-elections in 2008/09 as well as monitoring international online activity in seven case studies. In addition, online party strategists and activist were interviewed well before the start of the 2010 election, to examine the build up to the digital campaign.

Freddy Fallon, researcher on the Hansard Society’s Digital Democracy programme and joint author of Behind the Digital Campaign, commented: ‘Whilst the internet will play more of a role than in previous elections, the stories that will be picked up by the media will, for the most part, be prominent because they are occurring online rather than simply because of their content. It is likely that the most meaningful examples of engagement online during this election will occur through single-issue campaigns and other third parties, rather than through the parties themselves.’

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