Earlier this week Gordon Brown finally announced that the general election will be held on May 6th, but even before the Cabinet’s flash mob on Downing Street many took the opportunity to declare this “the first digital election”.
The theory runs something like this: back in the day you weren’t really supposed to question your betters, especially when they are doing something as important as trying to get elected. This applied even to those employed to do so: in 1966 BBC journalist John Simpson received a punch in the stomach for daring to ask Prime Minister Harold Wilson when he would be calling an election. Quite right too.
Standards have slipped since then, and journalists now seem to delight in asking politicians difficult questions. In the nineties and noughties some made a virtue of what would seem beyond the pale elsewhere. As we all know that the general public are very impressionable and tend to copy what they see on TV, so they started getting in on the act too.
Which all brings us to today and the digital election. Now not only can we have opinions and express them to the Prime Minister should we bump into him at an election rally, we can also tweet them, blog about them, retweet other people’s opinions, comment on other people’s opinions, become fans of them and make our own versions of campaign posters.
But what are these opinions? Are they influencing other people’s opinions? How are the parties themselves using social media? And will any of it make any difference to the outcome of the election? I hope to be able to shed a little light on these questions over the coming weeks. Let’s start with the first one – what are people talking about?
The chart above shows the topics people have been discussing in relation to the election in the last thirty days. This may be the first digital election, we may be reaching an environmental crisis and we may have good reason to want to reform parliament, but it seems the old maxim stands – it’s the economy, stupid!