Did social media really influence Lok Sabha elections 2019?

Social media today is the most popular and fastest medium of communication. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party -- and its then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi -- used social media to propagate its ideology and highlight the corruption scandals of UPA 2.

At that time, other leaders and parties had not realised the importance of social media, giving Narendra Modi a free run on these platforms. In fact, Rahul Gandhi joined Twitter only a year later -- in April 2015.

The 2014 elections are called India’s first social media elections. According to BJP’s IT Cell head Arvind Gupta, it impacted results of 30 to 40 percent of the seats.

The Congress is now gearing up its social media infrastructure with IT cell, volunteers, verified accounts, influencers. Even conservative parties, like the Bahujan Samaj Party, have begun to register their presence on the medium.

The Congress versus the BJP battle in 2019 was expected to be played out on social media. The increase in the number of smartphones and dirt-cheap data plans by Jio have boosted increased usage of social media platforms.

CSDS-Lokniti along with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung have come out with a report analyzing the role of social media in shaping political preferences and attitudes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The report has analyzed five social media platforms -- Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube.

To answer the question ‘Did social media really influence the results of Lok Sabha elections?’, we have to analyze the following factors:

1. How many people are on social media?

As per the report, WhatsApp is the most popular social media platform with 31% of population using it (daily/weekly/monthly/rarely combined basis). YouTube and Facebook are used by 27%-28% of the population, whereas Twitter is used by 7% of population.

People educated up to at least the matric level account for 90% of users, across most social media platforms. Youth (18-35 years) account for 70%-75% of the users. Urban users account for 45%-55% of the top 3 platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp & YouTube), semi-urban 30%-40% while rural 20%-25%.

While 60%-70% of users are men, 30%-40% users across platforms are women.

2. How many people use social media regularly?

Only 10% of the population has high exposure to social media. Almost 36% of the population has some sort of exposure to social media (high + moderate + low), implying that a majority -- 64% -- have no exposure. This could lead us to believe that social media didn’t play such a key role as is being suspected.

Caste-wise break-up of daily/weekly users suggest that upper castes dominate the usage pattern across all platforms. The surprise package is the Muslim community which is ahead of OBCs in usage, across platforms. This, despite the fact that Muslims account for about one-third of OBC population in India.

3. What is the turnout of these groups?

The number of people who have no exposure to social media outnumbers those who are exposed to social media by 1.75 times. If the turnout of people who have some sort of exposure is higher, then this could be compensated for. However, there is no data on caste-wise or age-wise turnout.

It is believed that the youth and the minorities generally come out in larger numbers to vote. For the first time ever, women who have comparatively lesser social media exposure than men, recorded the same turnout as men.

4. How did the various groups vote?

While support for the BJP was higher than for the Congress across all categories of users, daily users and weekly users were more likely to vote for the BJP than for the Congress.

The lead among daily and weekly users for the BJP over the Congress is 21% and 19% on Facebook and 26% and 19% on Twitter.

The National Democratic Alliance enjoyed the highest lead versus the United Progresive Alliance among high exposure upper caste members (+47%) and lowest among high exposure SCs.

On the other hand, the UPA lead was highest among no-exposure Muslims (+36%).

The BJP-led NDA received more support from high exposure to social media individuals across caste/community groups except in the case of OBCs and Others. The Congress-led UPA, on the other hand, received more support from high exposure to social media individuals belonging to OBCs and SCs. Muslims and Others having no exposure to social media are likely to vote more for the UPA than for the NDA.

Conclusion

So, yes, social media did play a key role in Lok Sabha elections 2019. Key findings listed below:

  • 36% people have exposure to social media platforms.

  • High and moderate exposure individuals have more likely voted for the BJP than for the Congress.

  • The BJP enjoys twice the support that Congress does among high/moderate social media-exposure individuals.

  • Across caste/community groups, the BJP got higher support from high and moderate exposure to social media individuals.

  • This also shows that the BJP’s social media team managed its handles better than the Opposition did and was able to push through its message and content in a better fashion.

  • The hundreds of thousands of WhatsApp groups it created helped the party a lot in these elections.

With the increase in Internet penetration, social media is likely to play an even bigger role in the upcoming elections. Opposition parties have to pull up their socks and beef up their social media teams and campaigns to take on the might of the BJP.