Since the position of Mayor of London was created in 2000 after a referendum in London, the turnout to elect a Mayor has varied considerably, from 38.1% in 2012 to 45.3% in 2016.
However, it’s not simply the increase and decrease in turnout that’s important. The way voters have engaged in the election since 2000 has diversified significantly.
By 2012, London was one of the top three most active cities on Twitter. In a city of early-adopters, digital campaigning has become an integral part of any mayoral candidate’s larger campaign. Knocking on doors, calling members, and postal campaigns are now just parts of a communication strategy, rather than an exhaustive list.
The extent to which the internet has altered engagement in the mayoral elections also extends further than a candidate’s campaign. The ability to register to vote online, along with an increase in websites and applications relating to the election, have all led to changes in the way Londoners choose to engage.
From 10 June 2014, people hav
The graph above – taken from the gov.uk dashboard – shows how people have chosen to register to vote since January 2016, up until the deadline for the mayoral elections on 5 May 2016.
Although the graph isn’t exclusive to those who registered to vote only for the London Mayoral Election, it’s clear that whatever election people had registered to vote in, the preference was almost unanimously towards using the online, rather than postal, option.
All 12 candidates in this year’s London Mayoral Election harnessed the power of social media. It’s now widely accepted as a crucial part of any political campaign strategy.
Social media not only allows candidates to communicate directly with potential voters, but also for voters to communicate with each other about candidates and campaigns in real-time.
One example of how social media was used by some of the mayoral candidates was the #VentYourRent campaign, started by Generation Rent. This politically independent campaign saw many people sharing their stories across the internet about what they get in return for the rent they pay. It didn’t take long before even mayoral candidates got involved.
— Sian Berry (@sianberry) April 30, 2016
Sian Berry wasn’t the only mayoral candidate to participate in the online campaign on renters’ rights. Sadiq Khan, who was subsequently elected as the Mayor of London, also used the campaign to showcase his policy ideas to a wider audience.
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) April 27, 2016
Another way voters were able to communicate with each other throughout the mayoral campaign was by using hashtags on social media channels.
Hashtags were used throughout the election by certain candidate’s campaign teams with the aim of generating conversation to gauge public opinion. Candidates using a consistent coordinated hashtag led to a less fractured and stronger campaign message.
Although there was a social media presence in previous London Mayoral campaigns, 2016 saw it become one of the central engagement channels throughout the election.
Applications and websites
This year’s London Mayoral Election saw the use of more Voter Advice Applications (VAA) than any previous.
VAAs are websites and applications designed to help voters see which party best matches up to their own opinion on a series of policy areas. The aim of VAAs is to help better inform voter choice, whilst simultaneously encouraging voter participation. The most popular VAA was used over 12 million times in Germany in 2013.
Verto is Bite the Ballot’s VAA, which was launched ahead of the London Mayoral Election. Bite the Ballot is an organisation that attempts to engage, inform, and empower young people, with the aim of encouraging them to partake in democracy and break down the engagement deficit. They estimate 30% of 18 – 24 year olds are not registered to vote. There is hope the introduction of VAAs and other digital engagement tools will reverse this trend.
Is social media engagement increasing voter turnout?
The increase of digital take-up changed the way both party candidates and voters engaged in the London Mayoral Election, and will continue to adapt and shape future elections.
While heightened social media engagement hasn’t shown a direct correlation with voter turnout, its importance as an engagement tool should not be undervalued.
The internet allows for fluidity across different engagement platforms, even those not online. This fluidity, and ease to connect with campaigns and elections, has the potential to lead to a more informed and engaged electorate.
Today’s guest blog is by Jessica Comerford, Business Development Executive at our parent company, Electoral Reform Services.