News / Science & Technology

Social Media Played Big Role in India’s Election

FILE - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes his oath at the presidential palace in New Delhi May 26, 2014
FILE - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes his oath at the presidential palace in New Delhi May 26, 2014
The sweeping victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent Indian elections has been attributed to factors ranging from slowing economic growth to high levels of corruption.

But for the first time in the country’s history, social media played an important role, according to analysts who are calling the vote India’s first "social media elections."

"The social media effect was huge for the BJP. … They really understood that social media is an extended version of the campaign trail," said Michael Kugelman, a senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

The Facebook candidate

By the time he was sworn in as prime minister, Narendra Modi had more than 16 million "likes" on Facebook, the second most for any politician in the world, and he was the sixth most followed world leader on Twitter.
Taken From FacebookTaken From Facebook
x
Taken From Facebook
Taken From Facebook


Modi’s popularity carried the BJP to victory with 282 seats out of the 543 seats in parliament, the biggest win by any party in India in 40 years.

Through its use of social media, the BJP was able to sway many young voters. And while official numbers on the youth vote have yet to be tallied, the BJP clearly won the contest for India’s young voters.

"What we do know from exit polling data is that if you look at demographic support for the BJP in particular, the BJP dominated the Congress when it came to younger voters," said Milan Vaishnav, an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

For the BJP, getting young votes meant harnessing the power of social media.

"We saw a trend, we read this trend, where the youth of the country were embracing social media as their first tool when they started using the internet, and we made sure our presence was there," said Arvind Gupta, who as head of BJP’s IT division led the party's social media campaign.

Gupta said BJP's social media campaign was one of the most important factors in its victory. He said social media affected 30 to 40 percent of the overall seats, a number he said could go up to 60 percent by the 2019 general elections.

In many constituencies, social media was amongst the top three communication tools, overtaking traditional methods such as advertisements, he added.

The importance of social media is underscored by the almost 74 million Internet users in the country, a 31 percent increase from March 2012 to March 2013, according to "India Digital Future in Focus." The report was published by comScore Inc., a U.S. company that measures digital usage.

The same report said 75 percent of India’s online population was younger than the age of 35, significantly younger than in other BRIC countries.
x


"Politicians realized that social media is not a couple of kids talking about fashion, but actually people talking about serious things," said Mandakini Devasher Surie, a senior program officer at the Asia Foundation.

Social media as a campaign tool

"Standard tools like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and then lately WhatsApp - I think these, from a social media perspective, were the pillars of our strategy," Gupta said.

One of the most interesting uses of social media was when the BJP crowd-sourced its manifesto, with hundreds of thousands of people using Twitter and blogs to comment.

"A lot of those suggestions were actually incorporated in our manifesto," Gupta said.

The BJP used a two-pronged approach to social media: increase its online presence while also helping in its offline activities.

In a program called "organize online to assist offline," the BJP used the reach of social media to recruit volunteers, eventually enlisting 2.2 million, Gupta said.

"Twitter by Modi"

For many Indians, it started with the use of Twitter by Modi, who gained millions of followers during the election campaign, according to Kugelman.

"Mr. Modi himself reached out through his Twitter account to the youth of the country, appealing to what the youth are looking for: jobs, security and the use of technology," said Nilotpal Chakravarti, the associate vice president of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

The social media campaigns by the BJP, and also by the anti-corruption Aam Admi Party (AAP), which made an impressive showing in the 2013 Delhi assembly elections, helped "define the media narrative."

It created "key messages and talking points" that were then picked up by the mainstream media, said Vaishnav, who is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
 


This meant the BJP was able to create a narrative that the Indian National Congress party - which had been in power for the past 10 years but only managed to win 44 seats this election - was “out of sync” with the common Indian, while Modi was more in tune with a population where the median age is 26, according to Vaishnav.

He added that Twitter and Facebook helped break down information barriers between politicians and voters, allowing them to better understand the candidates and the issues they were promoting.

While Gupta, the BJP’s IT leader, believes that social media played an important role in the BJP’s victory, he acknowledged it’s only a part of the overall strategy.

"Where we differed from both the Congress and AAP is that they didn’t have the base content, they didn’t have the base leadership, they didn’t have the base policy and performance record we had," he added.

"You’re not going to win an election only by depending on your social media presence," said Kugelman, from the Woodrow Wilson Center.

He pointed to AAP and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in Pakistan, political parties that had a strong social media presence but couldn't convert that into votes because of a lack of national presence.

"The type of messaging and the target messaging, and the agenda on which the election was fought, won them the election rather than social media alone," said Bharath Gopalaswamy, deputy director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.

Tools to govern
 
While the election campaign may be over, the BJP’s use of social media will continue, according to Gupta.

"We need to use it more constructively… making sure that what the government is doing is being communicated in a very transparent, real time manner and seeking feedback if something needs to be corrected," said Gupta.

One option put forward is for the different ministries to have their own Facebook and Twitter pages for better two way communication and to act as a tool for engagement, said Chakraveti, who is with IAMAI.

It should be used as a tool for citizen engagement, and the Prime Minister’s Twitter account could be used by Modi to take suggestions from stakeholders and gage their response, he added.

Urban India had 78 million social media users in June 2013. The number rose to 91 million by December 2013, indicating the growing importance of social media, according to the IAMAI report "Social Media in India - 2013."

The potential use of social media to improve transparency could work in the BJP’s favor, said Kugelman, adding that voters in India and other countries complain "that they don’t really know" what a party's or politician's priorities and objectives are.

“So if the BJP could continue to use social media as a major platform for communicating its ideas and goals," Kugelman said, "then I think that’s definitely a good thing.”

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Maliha Hussain from: Oakville. ON
June 09, 2014 3:15 PM
A good read with some very interesting facts and numbers! Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf that had a strong social media and national presence did convert into votes but massive rigging nulled them


by: VG from: Bhavnagar, Gujarat
June 08, 2014 2:09 PM
A question in my mind is this: did voters' rational thinking or emotions and feelings bring Modi to power?

India is a country of more young peoples than perhaps any other country in the world; it is a fashionable thing in India to follow someone or have followers; more followers one has, the more popular one is.

However, how many of these people do comprehensive reading, critical thinking, and analyzing before expressing themselves on social media. I doubt sound bites and 140-character messages would ever produce leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Lincoln etc.

Here is something to ponder: the BJP got 282 seats; and of these seats, 239 came from 14 states, meager 32 came from the remaining 14 states, and the rest from the union territories and capital Delhi.

In Response

by: skt from: columbus
June 08, 2014 10:18 PM
well said !


by: Adil from: Toronto
June 08, 2014 1:12 PM
It seems like the BJP really took advantage of the growing influence of social media during the election campaign. Although there is no doubt that Congress was punished by the voters for its dismal economic performance, the effective use of social media did play a critical role in delivering BJP such a huge majority. It is important to remember though that there needs to be support for the political party at the grassroots level for them to successfully translate the social media campaigning into tangible votes.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid