India’s Digital Poll Battle: Political Parties and Social Media in the 16th Lok Sabha Elections

Date01 December 2015
Published date01 December 2015
Subject MatterArticles
India’s Digital Poll Battle: Political
Parties and Social Media in the
16th Lok Sabha Elections
Neena Talwar Kanungo1
This article analyzes the use of social media platforms by select political parties (BJP, BSP, CPI(M),
INC, NCP and AAP) during the campaign in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The methodology of data
collection for the study includes the content analysis of Twitter and Facebook postings on social media
platforms by these political parties for a period of 67 days. The study attempts to understand and
analyze the strategies adopted by the political parties to interact and communicate with the voters
online. It finds that social media has emerged as a virtual site where major political issues have been
raised and contested; social media campaign is not simply interactive, but is aggressive as well. While
underlying the growing importance and impact of social media in political campaign, this study however
observes that it has not been a game changer in the 16th Lok Sabha elections.
Social media, political parties, Lok Sabha elections, BJP, INC, AAP
With the advent of the Internet and its recent pervasiveness in every sphere of life, including politics,
online has become an indispensable medium in election campaigns across the world. As a result, the
Internet and social media tools, such as, Facebook (FB), Twitter, blogs and YouTube, have been added
to the existing traditional tools. This new media ‘create and expand the new spaces through which we
interact, play and even politicize ourselves’ (Lovink & Rash, 2013, p. 10).
The evolution of the new media has been quite steady. In the 1980s, ‘teledemocracy’ (Babeo, 1995,
p. 1) was initiated in the United States (US) through interactive television programmes. In the 1990s,
Internet became a channel for dissemination of political communication and some people started
using it to learn about politics and political candidates. Due to its interactive design, it encouraged
citizens’ participation in politics and soon became popular in democracies such as the US, the United
Kingdom (UK), Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, South Africa and others. The Internet offered
potential ‘to revolutionize political activity far more profoundly than the telephone or television ever did,
1 Faculty of Library and Information Science, School of Social Sciences, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi.
Studies in Indian Politics
3(2) 212–228
© 2015 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023015601743
Corresponding author:
Neena Talwar Kanungo, Faculty of Library and Information Science, School of Social Sciences, Indira Gandhi
National Open University, New Delhi 110068.
Kanungo 213
for unlike them it offers the possibility of direct two-way interaction between the citizens and politicians’
(Ferdinand, 2000, p. 1).
The advent of the new technology, it was claimed, would bring transparency in governance, which
will lead to greater efficiency and then to greater democracy. Further, it would also bring the citizens
together in the virtual forums restoring a more genuine, and more profound, form of deliberative
democracy (Ferdinand, 2000, p. 6) and digitally mediated direct representation could provide a basis
for a more dialogical and deliberative democracy: ‘…new digital technologies of mediation make
possible more direct techniques of representation…serve to democratize representation by making it
a more direct relationship’ (Coleman, 2005, p. 178). Grossman (1995) even talked about ‘electronic
It is true that ‘cost, volume, directionality, speed, targeting, and convergence’, theoretically, made the
Internet as a democratizing tool (Stromer-Galley, 2000, p. 41). Cost of political campaign is certainly
much cheaper on websites. Surely, targeted messaging has become easier with emails, Short Message
Service (SMS), etc.; SMS and ‘missed calls’ are increasingly getting popular in Indian elections in
recent years. As websites provide audio-visuals, pictures and texts in one place, political parties have
found it handy to put all types of contents in one place.
No doubt, due to emergence of the Internet, the social media platforms have influenced the demo-
cratic politics globally. As Internet has inherent democratic characteristics, the digital communication
becomes direct, transparent, participative, collaborative and accessible to all without any boundaries.
But does the Internet offer increased democratic interaction? Not really: in electoral campaigns, two-way
communication between political parties/candidates and the electorates using the Internet is rare
(Baxter & Marcella, 2012; Baxter et al., 2013; Marcella, Baxter & Cheah, 2008). Use of email, survey/
polls, web chats, bulletin/web boards by political parties, which are supposed to be effective tools of
two-way communication, are rarely deployed.
Further, though digital communication networks may be credited by some for bringing into existence
a new democratic society, there are certain limits on digital democracy ‘due to state and capitalist
surveillance and control over digital media technology, as well as due to structural inequalities that lead
to digital participation inequalities’ (Dahlberg, 2011, p. 867). Moreover, it is being increasingly used
for negative campaigning disregarding democratic culture. However, ‘the flexible and contested develop-
ment and experimentation with social media technologies can themselves be seen as democratic
opportunities’ (Loader & Mercea, 2011, p. 760).
Political parties in the US, the UK, Australia and some countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia now
extensively use social media in elections; the most strategic use of social media was witnessed in
the 2008 and 2012 US Presidential elections. In this context, this article first explores how India’s
political parties have used social media in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to attract young voters,
raise online donations and also recruit/mobilize volunteers/members for their respective parties; second,
it classifies and analyzes the issues raised and contested by the political parties in social media through
tweets and FB postings. Finally, on the basis of this analysis, it attempts to assess its present impact
and future possibilities.
Elections Campaign: Traditional versus Online
Political analysts rightly predicted that the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was going to be ‘substantially
mediatized’ as compared to the previous ones (Palshikar, 2014). However, while analyzing the trend in

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT