The Conservatives have a mountain to climb to challenge Labour’s social media dominance

In the wake of this year’s snap general election, it has become apparent that age, not social class, has become the new fault line in British politics. Analysis published by YouGov highlights the woeful electoral performance by the Conservatives amongst younger voters.

Amongst 18 and 19 year old voters at the 2017 general election, Labour were ahead of the Tories by a staggering 47 points (66% to 19%), and were 40 points ahead of the Conservatives with voters in their 20s. The YouGov analysis found that, for every ten years older a voter is, the probability that they are a Conservative voter rises by around nine points. The Conservatives lead by a crushing 50 points (69% – 19%) amongst the over 70s.

Age, and not social class, is now the key driver of British voting habits. Key to understanding this shift in voting behaviour is that, in terms of consuming media and following current affairs, older and younger voters inhabit totally different worlds.

Older voters tend to follow the news using traditional print media and television news. The average age, for instance, of the typical Daily Telegraph reader is 61; the same average age as the average BBC1 viewer.

Younger voters, on the other hand, are likely to follow election campaigns through now-ubiquitous social media networks. The Office for National Statistics found that 96% of 16-24 year olds, and over 80% of 25-45 year olds, had used social media within the last three months. The drop-off in social media usage is with people aged 50 years or older, which is also the tipping point at which voters are more likely to vote Conservative than Labour.

The social media campaign has become key to electoral success in Western democracies, and it is in this arena where Labour absolutely crushed the Conservatives. To demonstrate this, I downloaded data from Facebook on over 28 thousand status updates for a range of key political figures and organizations, including Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, the Conservative and Labour Parties, and Momentum, the Labour-affiliated campaign group. This contains data on over 40 million reactions (“likes”, “loves”, etc.), 4.7m comments and 13.7m shares.

The chart below shows daily polling figures (on the left axis – hollow lines) for Labour and the Conservatives for April, May and June 2017 until polling day. The right hand axis shows the number of reactions to Facebook posts for Theresa May and the Conservatives combined (blue line); and Jeremy Corbyn, Labour and Momentum combined (red line). I have included Momentum with the Labour because they have very similar levels of activity on their respective Facebook pages; no Conservative-affiliated organisation comes close.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Facebook page registered over 5 million reactions and over 1.6m shares for the three months from April to June 2017, whilst Theresa May had only 556,674 reactions and 115,950  shares over the same period. The Labour Party’s page had 1.86m reactions in the period, compared to the Conservatives 820,263, the Liberal Democrats’ 286,807, and 275,492 for the Scottish National Party.

This chart doesn’t show unofficial Jeremy Corbyn supporters pages, such as “JeremyCorbyn4PM”, which got 856,025 reactions for the three months, more than the official Conservative Party page.

Labour were by far the winners of the battle for clicks and shares in the Facebook campaign. The dominance of the Labour party in the arena where Millennials and younger Generation Xers follow political campaigns is a key reason why age, and not class, has become the new political fault line in British politics.

The Facebook data can also show which political messages have the effect of making people angry, or sad, or even amused through the reaction buttons which will be recognizable to anyone who uses the social network.

Interestingly, by far the issue that got people the angriest was the deal with the DUP, with over 47 thousand “angry” reactions to three Jeremy Corbyn posts in the aftermath of the confidence and supply deal reached in June 2017. Posts regarding the Prime Minister’s admission that she once ran through a field of wheat tended to cause amusement.

As recent political developments in the United States have shown, mastery of social media is now a prerequisite for those who seek political power. The Conservatives will surely not be able to afford such a comprehensive defeat amongst social media users in general elections to come.

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