Third space, social media, and everyday political talk
Authors: Lilleker, D., Koc-Michalska, K. and Jackson, N.
Editors: Bruns, A., Enli, G., Larsson, A.O. and Christensen, C.
Political campaigns in the UK in many ways are a blend of traditions from European party systems with aspects influenced by the more US candidate-centred model. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the UK first past the post system where candidates stand for election as individuals in constituencies, the candidate who has most votes being elected, encourages a more individualistic style of campaigning at the local level (Ward & Southern, 2012). Secondly, party leaders since the Thatcher era have been argued to have adopted a more presidential style, so are central to the campaign. That said, largely web-based campaigning follows a party-centric model where the party rather than the leader has a set of domains across platforms (websites and linked presences on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube mainly), though some local candidates will independently create their own presences across the Internet. UK campaigns therefore have potential to be innovative in their use of social media and to present voters with multiple means of interacting with the individuals and their parties who seek their vote.
In order to explore the adoption and use of social media during election campaigns in the UK this chapter draws on three data sets. Firstly a longitudinal analysis of website and web presence features which allows us to track the use of the Internet by the major political parties across the local elections of 2008, subsequent European Parliamentary Election (2009), General Election (2010) and the most recent contest the 2014 European Parliamentary Election. The parties selected for analysis present a cross-section of the UK political scene. Labour were party of government from 1997-2010 and subsequently the main opposition, the Conservatives were opposition until 2010 and subsequently major partners in a coalition with the third largest party in terms of popular vote, the Liberal Democrats. The Green Party have a long history as a campaigning organisation but only gained their first MP in 2010 but have always had representation in councils and the European Parliament. The other two parties have no parliamentary representation but stand nationally and have had significant impact on the news agenda, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) are a conservative and Eurosceptic party who consistently do well in the popular vote at European Parliamentary Elections, the British National Party are the far-right, neo-fascist party who are most innovative historically online and had two MEPs until 2014. The second data set is from interviews with party strategists which asked them to prioritise different elements in order to define a 21st Century professional campaign. This chapter draws only on data that compares the prioritisation of different media use (online and offline) to identify how social media are embedded strategically within a campaign. Finally the chapter draws on data from social media pages which analyses the usage of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube by the six major parties, assessing how social media offers each party reach and how reach (in terms of followers and page views) corresponds with strategies. This data will focus on the aftermath of the European Elections and provides insights into the role social media might play in the UK General Election which will take place in 2015. Prior to introducing this data the chapter provides a brief summary of research on web campaigning in the UK up to 2008 and the role the Internet has been argued to play as a campaign tool.