Votes are in, the statistics published. In the British Columbia Canada municipal elections held on November 19th, little has changed, including the general decline in voter turnout. In general, most incumbent Mayors and Councillors, along with School Board Trustees maintained their posts with few upsets, while in some smaller municipalities councils were unchallenged.
A previous post rated the candidates in The City of Victoria and District of Saanich actively using social media as part of their campaign communication strategy – with those in mind it is now possible to make some judgements around who won/lost and if social media played a role.
Noting that incumbents generally have the advantage of name recognition, the real surprise was in Victoria. All previous councillors ran leaving no open seat, yet three sitting councillors, including two directly associated and aligned with incumbent Mayor Dean Fortin (who won) were defeated…
Victoria BC Municipal results
Mayoral Candidates (4)
10080 – Re-elected: Dean Fortin (incumbent): Website : Facebook (2249 friends) : Twitter (1503 followers, 277 updates)
4229 – #2 Paul Brown (Open Victoria): Website : Facebook (122 friends) : Twitter (67 followers, 113 updates)
2206 – #3 Steve Filipovic : Website : Facebook (309 friends) : Twitter (90 followers, 336 updates)
161 – #4 David Shebib: Twitter (13 followers, 124 updates) : Facebook (230 friends)
Council Candidates (8 incumbents, 12 challengers)
8940 – Geoff Young (incumbent) : Website : Facebook (friends info blocked)
8803 – Charlayne Thornton-Joe (incumbent) : Website : Facebook (546 friends) : Twitter (34 followers, 2 updates)
8523 – New: Lisa Helps: Website : Facebook (192 friends) : Twitter (387 followers, 590 updates)
8419 – New: Ben Isitt : Website : Facebook (friends info blocked) : Twitter (197 followers, 36 updates)
7493 – Marianne Alto (incumbent) : Website : Facebook (388 friends) : Twitter (416 followers, 116 updates)
7321 – Pam Madoff (incumbent) : Website (note- webpage attached to Mayor Dean Fortin’s site)
6904 – New: Shellie Gudgeon: Website : Facebook (45 friends) : Twitter (139 followers, 144 updates)
6793 Chris Coleman (incumbent) : Website
6343 – John Luton (incumbent) : Website : Facebook (518 friends)
6101 – Lynn Hunter (incumbent) : Facebook (689 Friends)
5719 – Phillippe Lucas (incumbent) : Website : Facebook (115 friends) : Twitter (385 followers, 314 updates)
4866 – Rose Henry: Website : Facebook (785 friends)
3993 – Suhki Lalli (Open Victoria): Website : Facebook (3 friends) : Twitter (1 follower, 3 updates)
3923 – Linda McGrew (Open Victoria) : Website : Facebook (21 friends) : Twitter (59 followers, 112 updates)
2777 – Aaron Hall (Open Victoria) : Website : Facebook (298 friends) : Twitter (1018 followers, 6205 updates)
2014 – John Turner
1519 – Robin Kimpton: Website : Facebook (11 friends)
1055 – Saul Anderson: Website
757 – Sean Murray
682 – John Valentine: Website : Facebook (32 friends)
Note – social media follower numbers are as of November 10th, 2011. In most cases those numbers rose before the November 19th election.
The Role of Social Media
There is no doubt the majority of municipal campaigns for Mayor or council utilized social media, alongside a website, as part of an overall communication strategy. What is interesting is that the number of followers, or updates, had little correlation to direct votes. Some, like council contender Aaron Hall, began the campaign with an apparent advantage of over 1018 Twitter followers, yet he ended with a total vote far less than other non incumbents with less online activity. Others such as Lisa Helps appeared with a beginning disadvantage, yet managed to correlate online activity to persuasion.
Of course, much is at play in any campaign beyond online activity. Simply going into an election with name recognition has an advantage – along with active door knocking, funds for advertising and signs, mainstream media attention, positive results in all-candidates meetings. Yet, it is noteworthy, the three new council candidates: Ben Isitt, Lisa Helps and Shellie Gudgeon who unseated incumbents in Victoria were very active on social media, more so than John Luton and Lynn Hunter – although defeated Councillor Phillippe Lucas was active. The message here might be simply….the message.
Content vs Numbers
The number of friends/followers on social media platforms is important, and can be an indicator of interest. That does not automatically translate into support. Followers could be family and friends outside of a voting region, media, even opponents watching a candidates activity. However the higher a follower number can indicate greater positive voter interest: there are only so many media, family etc. to plump an account.
Where candidates, now new council members, Lisa Helps, Shellie Gudgeon and Ben Isitt did well on social media, was utilization. Lisa especially used open ended questions, asked for feedback, used video via YouTube and thanked followers/mentions. That form of engagement drove her numbers higher on a daily basis, and likely assisted in her coming third overall in total votes with 8523, higher than 3 re-elected councillors…
“Social media seem to draw the same audience for candidates, just on a different platform,” Wright said. “It’s not attracting new voters. It’s retaining those who support them.”
And now that it’s become mainstream, it has to be done well to engage voters, he said. Wright points to Victoria candidate Lisa Helps, who won a council seat, and Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, who was re-elected despite facing a significant challenge from David Cubberley, as example of politicians using social media well.
“You should ask open-ended questions that allow people to interact. Be yourself, say thank you a lot, react to feedback,” Wright said. “And keep it up once the election is over.” via Times Colonist: Social media usage way up in election campaign; voter turnout, not so much by Kim Westad
Voter Turnout, a Disturbing Trend
True for the British Columbia municipal elections, the recent Federal and Provincial votes across Canada, and Western democracies – voter participation is decreasing, despite the promise of open communication platforms provided by social media. Yet in between election cycles, interest in particular issues ranging from the environment to income inequality, arts funding to education have driven more people to online petitions, forums, blogs and directly onto the streets, than actually vote. There is obvious interest in issues, less interest, or maybe trust, in the politics that drive the policies. The Occupy movement is a visible reaction to that trend.
Turnout in Victoria barely budged the recent lows at 26.35%, Saanich was up at 25.35% with the highest within the 13 municipality Capital Regional District for Sooke at 41.92% – the average for the province was 29.51% – Full municipal list via CivicInfo.bc.ca
One reason might be that the active users of social media demand almost instant feedback. Active Twitter and Facebook users tend to be better informed, the age demographic is rapidly moving from the ‘youth’ 18-24 years model to +45 yrs, and they tend to vote – or not, especially in cases where a politician is not meeting expectations within the communication medium of the voter.
Some pundits and observers blame low voter turnout on political parties and candidates, asserting they alone are responsible for decreasing political participation. To some extent that is correct – low vote numbers are indicative of a failure to engage, at the door or online, – that none of the policies or vision relate to the expectations of the majority. That being said, the goal of a party or candidate is to win. Ideally, any campaign would prefer only their voters at the polls. There is no incentive to encourage potential opposition, with campaigns becoming increasingly technologically efficient, identifying the number of votes required for a win, and getting those supporters out on voting day. Any variable – such as a far higher turnout – wrecks strategy.
So it was interesting this week to read Elections BC proposals: Internet voting, registering youth at 16 on the voter list among others. More prevalent is the Op/Ed in the Vancouver Sun which largely places an onus on mainstream media to more comprehensively cover municipal issues. Compulsory voting, online voting, reducing the voting age, more civic education in the school system – all are good ideas, all have possibilities. Yet none address the primary issue: there must be more, direct and relevant, engagement with voters on issues in between elections.
Food for Thought
In order to engage more people, municipal issues must be given a more prominent role in media coverage. Regrettably, this space has recently been dominated—at least on the web—by advertisements for political parties disguised as blogs. These efforts end up being half bad at journalism and half bad at political advocacy, making them a complete disservice to the voters. Both incumbents and opposition must find ways to explain their course of action, without resorting to personal attacks and unfounded accusations, as the decisions are being made—and not just when the election is a few weeks away. Vancouver Sun
An interesting paper by Amanda Clarke, published in the Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament
Because social media offer low-cost and user-friendly means of conducting an ongoing dialogue between citizens and their representative figures and institutions, some argue that social media will grant decision-makers a more sophisticated understanding of the public’s interests and needs. Proponents of this view suggest that this improved understanding will lead to higher quality policies and programs.44 However, as noted earlier, those who currently participate in social media–based political exchanges may not be representative of the general population. As such, the needs and interests they express may not serve as an accurate gauge of public opinion. In addition, as some argue, these new communications technologies will not necessarily alter who is represented or the means and frequency of representation in governing institutions and policy processes.
Over the 5 week British Columbia municipal election campaign there has been a great deal of online, and in person, discussion on the role of social media in politics and issues. This has been among journalists, politicians, academics and voters, which illustrates that many are looking laterally – not only at campaigns and issues at the moment, but how communications and the role of social media can/might/will affect politics and issue engagement in the future.
It was refreshing to not be directly and actively involved in a campaign this time round. Being outside of the ‘election bubble’ allowed for a more objective view on how media was reporting, how social media shaped campaigns, how voters were reacting.
Thanks go to Theresa Lalonde (Twitter @TheresaLalonde) for inclusion in CBC Radio, TV and the CBC website (Story) – Adam Stirling (Twitter @Adam_Stirling) for the online chats and radio interviews on CFAX – Kim Westad, Times Colonist, for the article – Janni Aragon, (Twitter: @JanniAragon) Professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria, for aiding and organizing the Political Panel with Social Media Club Victoria, Raul Pacheco-Vega (Twitter @raulpacheco) for the UBC Politics and Policy guest speaker invitation – that was a fantastic experience with his Poli Sci 350 Class –
As always, your thoughts on how the current election was affected by social media, or how it may play a role in the lead to the 2014 municipal elections, are welcome.