New Delhi: Standing for elections in 2014? Facebook and Twitter could be your best campaign managers. That’s a message India’s political parties will have to take to heart when drawing up strategy in what is bound to be a closely fought contest, given the trend of wafer-thin majorities and coalitions held together by the tenuous ties of what look like opportunism to some observers.
Out of 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, 160 are likely to be “highly” influenced by social media while another 67 will see a moderate impact during the general elections scheduled for 2014, according to a study released and supported by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) on Thursday.
Narendra Modi is in charge. The Samajwadi Party-led Uttar Pradesh, which sends the maximum number of legislators to the lower House, is third with 14 high-impact seats.
The basis of the study is the population of the total number of users from a particular constituency on Facebook. While high-impact constituencies are those where the number of such users account for more than 10% of the voting population, the “medium-impact” ones are those with over 5% of voters on Facebook. The assumption is that in high-impact areas, such users will directly influence voting, while in medium-impact areas, a Facebook user may influence a non-Facebook user.
While the study by Mumbai-based Iris Knowledge Foundation underlines the need to set aside a specific budget for social media activity, it said that more than 35% of the constituencies won by the ruling Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the previous general election fell in such high-impact constituencies.
The study showed that the high-impact constituencies include those currently held by union ministers such as Shashi Tharoor, Kapil Sibal, Ajay Maken, Pawan Kumar Bansal and Manish Tewari, besides those of former Lok Sabha members and now chief ministers, Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal and Virbhadra Singh of Himachal Pradesh, respectively.
Both the constituencies of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party vice -president Rahul Gandhi, however, fall in the low or no-impact category.
Experts however feel that this is the “beginning” of a phase in which factors such as social media play a role in electoral politics and that the impact will take some time to be felt.
“If social media is used intelligently by political parties, it will certainly have an impact on the urban middle class which in turn has the potential to influence the voting pattern across the country,” said S.L. Rao, Bangalore-based sociologist and former director general of the National Council for Applied Economic Research.
“However, it will not be a national campaign as it is more of an urbanized phenomenon. It will be more of a big-city trend because of greater Internet penetration.”