It’s been called Canada’s “Twitter election” because of the social media buzz thus far being generated by the 2011 Federal polls. But for all the trouble political parties have put into their social media strategy, Canadians are just not into following the elections through social networking sites.
A survey recently released by Ipsos Reid Canada indicates that only six per cent of the entire Canadian adult population (around 1.5 million potential voters aged 18 and above) are logging on to social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or media news sites and blogs each day to discuss public policy and political issues. The survey, which polled 1,001 Canadians, was done over a three-day period right after the Federal Election was announced. Results are considered accurate to within + or – 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
“For all the talk about this being a social media election, we haven’t actually reached the hyped point yet,” Mike Colledge, president of Canadian public affairs for Ipsos Reid, told ITBusiness.ca.
“But this is our first kick at the can, this will still be known as our first social media election,” Colledge added.
Despite the low turn out, Ipsos Reid is also upbeat about social media’s role in future Canadian elections. “The study shows the fertile ground of potential voters who could sprout up in future election campaigns…” Ipsos Reid said on its Web site, also noting that at one in five Canadians (or an estimated 5.1 million potential voters) did log on to social media sites in varying degrees to check on the election during the past week.
Ipsos Reid said that apart from the 6 per cent that visited social sites daily, eight per cent went to social sites twice a week, and another seven per cent visited social sites once a week.
The leader of a non-partisan organization dedicated to encouraging school-aged children to vote when they come of age, said he welcomes the conversation on the elections now appearing on the social media arena, but thinks it is mainly political parties using the technology.
“I think there’s this perception that only youths aged 18 to 20 are using social media in this election. In reality, people of all ages are using social networking technology,” said Taylor Gunn, chief election office of the group Student Vote. Student Vote is non-profit, non-partisan organization that works with schools and teachers to help young Canadians understand the practice and responsibilities of voting.
“I think those using social media extensively for the elections are mostly people connected to the campaigning parties,” he said.
The Ipsos Reid survey actually showed that of the Canadians engaging in social media 29 per cent are aged 18-34; 22 per cent are aged 35 to 54; and 15 per cent are aged 55 years and older.
However, while younger Canadians may be more likely to join, it’s middle-aged (nine per cent) and older Canadians (six per cent) who are much more engaged on a daily basis with social media public policy and political discussion groups than their younger counterparts (four per cent).
Facebook not Twitter is election medium of choice
Another surprising finding in the Ipsos Reid release is that Facebook rather than Twitter is the dominant social media tool of choice for election-related discussions.
“It’s being called the Twitter election but in reality Facebook is the more popular social media discussion space,” said Colledge.
When asking which web sites Canadians visited to discuss public policy and political issues on a daily basis, the survey showed that respondents were nearly evenly split: 18 per cent chose new media sites such as Facebook and Twitter; while 15 per cent chose web sites of traditional news publishing and broadcasting companies.
More than 15 per cent of respondents used Facebook, compared to only two per cent for Twitter, two per cent for MSN, one per cent for Yahoo and one per cent for blogs.
Traditional media sites were dominated by CBC, eight per cent; CTV, three per cent; The Globe and Mail, three per cent; Radio Canada, one per cent; Cyberpresse, one per cent; Canoe.ca, one per cent; and Toronto Star, one per cent.
Weekly social media site users favoured new media sites (42 per cent) over traditional media sites (35 per cent).
But again Facebook dominated as the social media forum:
Facebook – 38 per cent
Twitter – four per cent
MSN – three per cent
Yahoo – two per cent
Blogs – two per cent
The CBC, likewise, maintained its lead among traditional media Web sites:
CBC – 20 per cent
CTV – six per cent
Globe and Mail – six per cent
Toronto Star – two per cent
Radio Canada – one per cent
Cyberpresse – one per cent
Where do voters who have committed to a federal party go?
Among Conservative voters, Ipsos Reid found that 16 per cent used new media channels for discussions and 14 per cent relied on traditional media Web sites. Facebook (12 per cent) and CBC (eight per cent) were the favourite sites of Conservatives.
Liberal voters were more likely to use traditional media sites (26 per cent) than new media sites (23 per cent). Facebook (22 per cent) and CBC (18 per cent) were favoured sites.
It was a near even split between traditional media sites (16 per cent) and new media sites (18 per cent) for NDP voters. Facebook (15 per cent) and CBC (six per cent) led their choice of forum.
Bloc Quebecois voters were more likely to use new media sites (20 per cent) than traditional media sites (12 per cent). Facebook (16 per cent), Radio Canada (seven per cent), Cyberpresse and the online outlet for La Presse (both five per cent) were the favourites.
Green Party voters favoured new media sites (21 per cent) over traditional media sites (11 per cent). There sites of choice were Facebook (19 per cent) and CNN (six per cent).
Gunn, of Student Vote welcomes the growing adoption of social media in the Federal elections. He believes is will generate more discussion and interest in a public practice of democracy that over the years has lost its luster.
“During the last Federal elections in 2008, we only had 58 per cent voter turn out. In the last municipal elections there were provinces that registered as low as 40 per cent. If the trend continues we will probably see below 50 per cent in Ontario,” he said.
Gunn is hopeful that social media has the potential to boost participation among in the elections. “There’s an energy in these elections that seems to be popping up from all side through the social media.”
“Ordinary citizens, not just partisan groups, are becoming more creative in using the social media to drum up interest and get people to vote,” said Gunn.
Student Vote, itself is using Facebook to encourage participation in the election. More than 10,000 Canadians, said Gunn, have gone to the site and given their pledge to vote in the elections.
Despite this, Gunn has more faith in the “hands one, boots on the ground” approach that Student Vote engages in when they help teachers organize mock elections in schools to foster interest among school children who are not yet of voting age. “We’re looking into the future. We’re grooming children to be concerned about the country and to know their responsibilities as voters.”
“When they reach voting age, hopefully they’ll know why they have to vote and how to practice that right,” he said.