Is social media a combat indicator?

During the past couple of days I have been wondering whether there is any joy to be had in the fact that election polling has not been very reliable of late. I know how it sounds, like I am clutching at straws in the hope that Labour will win…right? Don’t be so sure. Every time I watch the news I am told that the election is a foregone conclusion in favour of the Conservatives. Then I read articles on news websites and read the comments. I find many many people sympathetic to Labour challenging the accepted wisdom of the Telegraph, the Mail, the BBC etc. I then see the disparity in support on social media, in favour of Labour and I wonder, is it going to be a Conservative landlside? I am sensing something of a comeback similar to that of Bernie Sanders during his unsuccessful campaign to become the Democratic candidate for the presidency last year. Sadly I feel it will ultimately have the same outcome — too little, too late.

There are parallels with Corbyn’s election campaign and Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful bid to become the Democratic Party nominee for President in the US. At the beginning of the Sanders campaign he was mocked and not taken seriously. But as his supporters mobilised at grassroots level and his mainly young supporters exploited social media like never before, he became a potent force. It is possible Sanders would have become the Democratic nominee were it not for the internal corruption of the Democratic National Committee.

Corbyn has twice defeated his internal opposition and now his supporters are hoping to harness social media like never before to get their man elected. Social media support is clearly no guarantee of voting intent, but it’s an indication of support among tens of million of voters. Facebook remains the most widely used platform for getting ones message across. On Facebook the Labour Party page is ‘Liked’ by 741,979 people. The Conservative Party page trails at 578,214 ‘Likes’. The figures show an even bigger advantage when one looks at the official pages of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn dwarfs Theresa May with nearly 908,000 ‘Likes’ compared to May’s almost 374,000. There are many more unofficial pages on Facebook in favour of both Conservatives and Labour. It would be fair to assume that those who ‘Like’ the official pages will probably be the same people ‘Liking’ the unofficial pages, so it is unlikely that these are all different supporters, many of them will overlap. Twitter tells a similar story as the table below shows.

The encouraging news for Labour is that the 18–24 age group (as with Bernie Sanders), which is believed to be most sympathetic to Labour’s message, make up 7.7 million Facebook users according to Statista.com. If that demographic is seeing what I am on Facebook — and they should be because they are being targeted — then there is some hope. At the 2015 election Labour won approx double the number of votes as the Tories in the 18–24 age group. The next age bracket is the 25–34 year olds. According to Statista, they account for 10.7 million Facebook users. At the last election this age bracket also favoured Labour, although by a far smaller margin than the 18–24 year old. Many from this age group will only have known Conservative Prime Ministers since they became eligible to vote. Many of them will feel that they have been hard done by due to Conservative/Coalition austerity measures. Some of these folks will have lost their Education Maintenance Allowances, seen their tuition fees triple, watched as their access to benefits were restricted and found home ownership less and less obtainable. This age group remains fertile ground for Labour.

So what is the point of my unscientific analysis of social media users? My point is this: Labour is getting its message across better than the Tories and it is reaching the demographic that is the best at passing on the message. There is significant support out there for Labour, I see it and the majority of my social media friends and contacts are to the right of Thatcher. Polling organisations that rely on phone calls to those most likely to answer the phone (elderly people, retirees etc) might be missing what I am seeing on social media. This perhaps explains why polling organisations have such a poor recent record. I hope…

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