Wednesday, 20 May 2015

UKIP Facebooking the Tories in General Election 2015

The rise of populist parties has played a significant role in public discourse in the run-up to General Election 2015 (GE2015). Fuelled by misleading polls, the GE2015 campaign narrative focused on coalition politics; and predictions about the impact that parties like the UK Independence Party (UKIP) could have on post-election negotiations.

In 2010, the presence of the smaller parties was more muted and less pronounced. In the run-up to GE2015, UKIP appeared to be capitalizing on the splintering of disaffected Conservative Party participants and supporters. This phenomenon was being exhibited online in interesting and observable ways, especially in Facebook networks.

Facebook functionality is rooted in connecting ‘friends’ in its online venue. The social network actively and prominently promotes ‘friend suggestions’ to its users. This has little to do with whether one user knows another in the offline world. It has much more to do with the number of mutual Facebook friends two users might share.

In political Facebook networks, it has become increasingly likely that Facebook friends either will have had their first meeting online rather than offline; or not met in the offline world whatsoever. In 2008, it was more likely to be the reverse. The Conservatives have been actively growing political networks on Facebook since that time (Ridge-Newman 2014).

The manner in which Facebook connects people is highly useful for political networking. Political participants are increasingly using their Facebook profile photo to symbolize their association with a particular party or cause.

The more one’s friend networks grow within the Facebook community of a political party, the more Facebook will suggest friends from that political network to the Facebook user. The party symbols displayed on profiles makes it easy for the user to identify potential new Facebook friends associated with their party’s political network.

Between 2010 and 2015, Tory participants in the larger political networks on Facebook might have observed more and more of their once Tory-affiliated friends decorating their social media pages with the purple and gold branding of UKIP, often with prominent displays (profile and cover photos) of UKIP symbolism – especially the pound sterling sign (£) and images of Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader in GE2015.

Moreover, in the run-up to GE2015, Conservative Facebookers experienced an increasing frequency of friend requests from participants exhibiting prominent UKIP symbols on their profiles. Therefore, a number of questions arise from this observation. For example, was there a UKIP strategy to target Tory participants, or other political participants, in social networks; or did this behaviour develop organically at UKIP’s online grassroots? Furthermore, what impact did UKIP’s social media activity have on the significant national GE2015 vote for UKIP?

Although the British electorate voted decisively for a majority Conservative government,
UKIP increased its share of the national vote by 9.5%, with 3.9 million votes and 12.6% vote share.

This significant support for UKIP resulted in one UKIP Member of Parliament (MP), Douglas Carswell, being returned to the House of Commons. In contrast, 56 Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs were elected with 1.5 million votes and 4.7% vote share.

In researching this article, it would appear that some Ukippers have been left feeling bruised and disheartened by their GE2015 outcome. It has led some to call for electoral reform and others to seek a route back to the Conservative Party.

One informant explained that there are those in UKIP who feel they would like to ‘return home’ to the Tory fold. However, they fear they are now viewed as offensive and discriminatory individuals, and feel, therefore, that they would not be accepted as Tories by existing Tory participants.

Facebook activity has demonstrated that there is a reasonably strong familial relationship between UKIP and the Tories in social networks. Therefore, Facebook might act as an online bridge, providing a route back for some Ukippers (those that were once disaffected Tories) and facilitate their subtle reintegration into the Conservative fold – especially if David Cameron’s delivery of an EU Referendum results in increasing political redundancy for UKIP.

(This is part of the UK Election Analysis Report 2015 CLICK HERE to view in full.)

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Why were the polls so flawed in General Election 2015?

© The Mirror
Criticisms of the pollsters’ efforts in predicting the outcome of the General Election 2015 (GE2015) came flooding in from all directions when the actual results showed that months of opinion polls had not been representative of the UK vote.

Predicting elections is a complex practice because it involves an understanding and factoring of a range of dynamic variables. Writing for The Conversion, Leighton Vaughan Williams offers one perspective and claims that, if in doubt, following the bookies’ analyses, rather than opinion polls, is a sure bet.

My fieldwork in the Bath, Birmingham Northfield, Cheltenham, Clwyd South, Vale of Clwyd, and Worcester constituencies did not correlate with the opinion polls. Therefore, I distrusted the polls from the outset.

In July 2014, I had a conversation with a fellow academic, Giacomo Benedetto, about the relevance of canvassing. We discussed how in the run-up to 2010, voting intentions seemed looser and more dynamic than in previous elections, with swathes of voters being undecided until the latter stages of the campaign. We questioned whether the art of political canvassing is dead.

Fieldwork in run-up to 2015 has confirmed a persistent trend in large numbers of voters being reluctant to commit decisively on the doorstep to a voting intention. This is a change in voter behaviour that has been reported widely by party activists. It has been accompanied by a trend of increasing voter turnout. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, UK democracy is alive and well, but it is shifting to be more discerning.

The pollsters have not understood the significance of the undecidedness factor of the electorate. Anyone canvassing in the field in both this and the last election will recognise the growing significance of the undecideds and the dynamic nature of changing voting intentions. Polling needs to adapt in line with this change in voter behaviour. 

Shy voters are also a factor, which in itself seems related to changes in voter behaviour and their undecidedness. Pollsters need to innovate in terms of their approaches and methods, which need to catch up with contemporary trends.

The changes in voter behaviour could relate to a combination of greater open-mindedness; reluctance to commit; and a desire to not fully make up their mind until they have had time to sit, read, think and analyse all the relevant information available to them. 

People feel busier than times gone by. There is now greater voter choice and the electorate is becoming increasingly educated. These factors are bound to have an impact on the approaches voters take to deciding where to place their vote.

There seems to be an increasing erosion of tribal, historic and family voting loyalties. Voters do not want to commit themselves until the last moment, often not even admitting to themselves how they want to vote when even perhaps deep down they and their subconscious have a good idea.

Postal vote registration is increasing at each election. Therefore, it is something political parties should consider more deeply in terms of strategy.

In politics, nothing is written in stone (perhaps someone should have mentioned that to Ed Miliband. The Labour Party might have saved some limestone). 

British politics is in a dynamic state of flux. The pollsters need to catch up. 

The beauty of democracy is its unpredictability and the power of the people to issue unexpected change.

First-past-the-post voting anomaly in General Election 2015

© The Mirror
General Election 2015 was predicted to be the election that saw the growth of newer political parties like Ukip in the House of Commons.

However, it rather more highlighted an anomaly in the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system.

Ukip achieved nearly 4 million votes, which equated to just one seat in the House of Commons. In contrast, the SNP achieved 1.5 million votes, which resulted in 56 Westminster parliamentary seats.

After Britain voted a resounding No to AV in the 2011 referendum, this 2015 election result has led to renewed calls for voting reform, with many favouring proportional representation (PR), which is currently used in the UK to elect Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

The problem with PR is that it can lead to perpetual coalitions, seen in other European political systems, and the rise of all sorts of smaller parties, including those like the BNP.

It also means there is no direct voting for a constituency member and it makes it very difficult to vote them out.

It puts the power in the hands of the parties. They rank the candidates in order of priority and it is therefore less democratic.

It is also a complicated system that few will want to spend the time getting to understand.

Alternative voting systems have been used by parties in candidate selections. Party members tend to dislike them, because they can lead to peculiar outcomes.

The complex voting calculations are put in the hands of others and, as a candidate, it is difficult to verify if they are correct.

Humans make mistakes and sometimes invent ways to manipulate results.

FPTP is the simplest and easiest to verify for accuracy, because even the lay person can keep an eye on things at the count and all parties can be included in that process without too arduous a process.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Highlights from the #BBCQT Leaders' Question Time

Telegraph YouTube highlights from the #BBCQT Leaders' Question Time - 30 April 2015

Excellent format - widely praised and thought to be superior to the leaders' debates

Cameron generally considered to have come out on top