“The most important factor in improving participation is persuading voters that the election (and the political process more generally) is relevant to them and that their vote matters. That is the responsibility of politicians – of all parties, and at all levels of governance – and, arguably, the media.” The Electoral Commission
Many politicians lose sleep worrying about the disengagement between them and their potential voters and supporters. Fortunately, with the growing use of many different kinds of social media and web-based platforms to engage the public with, politicians have more ways than ever before to try to engage people with politics- particularly young people, who traditionally have made lower numbers of voters.
Nowadays it seems that hashtags, tweets, ‘likes’ and ‘thumbs up emoji’ play more of a role in a politicians’’ dreams than the traditional campaigning tactics of door-to-door canvassing.
It is without a doubt, that social media platforms offer a novel way for politician’s to encourage national engagement and allow seemingly unknowing people into the political discourse sphere.
The Obama presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and the Arab Spring in 2011 catalyzed interest in scholars wishing to explore the still-emerging relationship between social media use and public engagement. Yet, the concrete data remain far from definite.
A study conducted just prior to the infamous American election published in the journal Information, Communication & Society, “Social Media Use and Participation: A Meta-analysis of Current Research,” analyzed 36 studies on the relationship between social media use and political output such as voting and protesting. Dr. Shelley Boulianne of Grant MacEwan University (Canada), the chief lead of the study, concluded the following important points:
- 82% of studies showed a positive relationship between social media use and some form of civic or political engagement or participation.
- The correlation between social-media use and election-campaign participation “seems weak based on the set of studies analyzed”.
- As social media is a unexplored field for the political studies realm, there is a need for further research on its implications for the political arena.
All in all, the importance of acknowledging the usefulness of social media in the political realm is undoubtable.