Low voter turnout fuelled by a narrative of disillusionment against the ‘political class’ undermines the UK General Election 2015. There is no doubt that our low electoral turnout indicates a poor democratic health, which raises an important question. Could a digitally empowered civil society improve the health of democracy? With only 24 days to go until the election it’s interesting to see how political narratives are being communicated online. Especially to see if adopting digital technologies will allow politicians to connect with millennials.
It just so happens that my local parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party, Paul Scully, has started to ramp up his digital strategy as part of his local election campaign. A message posted on his Facebook page yesterday announced that he had created a new digital campaign team to “… help me convince those around you that it’s important to vote, and that voting Conservative here in Sutton & Cheam will ensure their vote counts”.
To join his digital campaign team he is using a tool called CliqStart, an app for iOS devices that allows people to join virtual campaign groups; from elections to humanitarian matters. It’s incredible easy to use: download it, find the group you would like to join and then you can choose to take actions as part of that community.
What’s really different about CliqStart is that the app is built on the (growing) realisation that a Facebook ‘like’ isn’t enough. If you want to make a change, then you need to make an action. This is more than just measuring hashtag mentions or message reach – it is about convincing a community of people to do something.
Paul Scully’s community gives you the options of canvassing for him, sharing his campaign messages online and pledging to vote for him. You also have the option to donate (of course) and chat with the community’s organiser. As you can see from the screenshots, it’s still early days for Paul’s community but it’s a smart idea because this is different. The app reminds me of the days when forum systems were popular online, before Facebook became mainstream and changed community management forever.
Of course, digital campaigning methods are nothing new to politics. Obama’s 2008 digital presidential campaign was a game changer, showing the voter engagement can be sourced on social media. The company behind this year’s UK General Election is NationBuilder, a community management tool that is specialised to drive grassroots action and is adopted by most mainstream political parties.
To discover if a digitally empowered civil society could improve democratic health in the UK we should look at politicians such as Paul Scully, because effective social media campaigns are always more than a Facebook ‘like’.