2017: The next digital election?

Three days ago Theresa May announced that there would be a general election not in 2020, as she previously committed to on numerous occasions, but in June, less than 8 weeks away. All of the previous planning, statements and claims made about what the general election will look like and be about now need to be quickly re-evaluated.

The fact that this general election is going to mostly be based around a single issue, Brexit, will have a huge on influence how the parties will campaign. While Jeremy Corbyn and Labour may try to push issues such as the NHS, realistically that may prove difficult. It may also not be wise, as eight weeks to fully develop a manifesto or come up with new ideas that clearly haven’t been thought through or tested is surely an impossible feat, and could lead to pledges that are ridiculed. Messages need to be quickly honed, resources need to be prioritised and supporters need to be mobilised.

The short window for campaigning is likely to have a huge impact on how each political party will try to win over voters. Given the timescales, the parties will turn to digital as their main tool to try get their message(s) across. The last election, just two years ago, was considered the first British digital election, and the leadership of each party will now desperately require the skills of their digital strategists to come up with ideas to immediately reach millions of people. If the election had been in 2020, we may have seen a further evolution of the work done in 2015, but will this be possible only two years later and with such a tight timeline?

In 2015, digital was a huge tool as it allowed the tracking and measurement of online campaigns. The parties could analyse whether the money being spent was delivering results. Coming back to the issue of the timescale once again, will this be possible now, or will it mean money gets thrown at ideas without the same scrutiny and careful examination of the results?

Audiences are also crucial within campaigns - it is important to use the right platforms to reach the appropriate voters. With the Lib Dems focusing on avoiding a ‘hard Brexit’, they may be able to use digital campaigns to tap into younger voters who are more likely to back Remain. However, they will face a particular challenge in transforming clicktivism into support on the ground and results at the polls. As the Brexit referendum results showed, younger voters may be more likely to vote Remain, but they were less likely to actually vote than older people. Whether the turnout of these younger, Remain voters will increase now with the reality that Brexit is happening and that it is a general election, is something that the Lib Dems may be pinning their hopes on, for Brexit, and the future of their party.

Research has also shown that contrary to widely held perceptions, older people are becoming more digitally involved. This was something that the Conservatives took into consideration in 2015, with one of their chief digital strategists pointing out that you are just as likely to find you parents on Facebook as your younger relatives, and with 53% of the population using the social media platform, it has huge potential. The Conservatives could use this as an opportunity to reach their core voters and the people who are most likely to get out on the day. With the last general election, they dedicated a significant period of time to assessing what digital activity would be effective, but time is not a luxury now. They may have to develop campaigns based on their analysis from 2015 as well as any preparatory work they have undertaken since then, but quickly adapt and tailor their approach as they go.

We will be keeping an eye on how the parties, and also candidates, use digital platforms throughout the campaign. We will look into whether anyone is using it well, and whether anything innovative, or indeed incredibly ridiculous, is being done. Perhaps in order to reach as many people as possible May, Corbyn or Farron may try to copy French Presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and use holograms

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