Facebook and Twitter use boosts election chances


SOCIAL MEDIA:HAVING A Facebook or Twitter account made a “significant difference” to a candidate’s chances of being elected to the Dáil in the last general election, a study by a political scientist with an interest in social media suggests.

Dr Ciarán McMahon, a lecturer in psychology at Dublin Business School, presented a paper at the weekend at the annual conference of the Political Studies Association of Ireland in Dublin, examining the impact of social media engagement in the general election in February.

Figures compiled by the psychologist, based on the number of fans, friends or followers a candidate had, show the average number of votes for someone who had a Facebook account in the poll was 4,402. The average number of votes for someone who did not have a Facebook account was about 2,100. Of the 566 candidates, just 120 did not have a Facebook account, while 446 did. Some 325 had Twitter accounts, while 241 did not. Those who had Twitter accounts got, on average, 4,885 votes while those who did not got on average 2,676 votes.

Dr McMahon said he believed the figures suggested there was “no escape” when it came to engagement with social media for candidates in future elections.

Some 325 (57 per cent of) candidates in the general election had Twitter accounts. Dr McMahon said that while the study did not show that engaging with social media was definitive in terms of getting elected, it suggested it would play a significant and unavoidable part in future elections.

“The interesting thing is that if you had a Facebook account, you were probably going to get more votes than the law of averages, and if you had a Twitter account, you were going to get more votes. But if you had the two of them there was no bounce – there was no interaction effect,” he said.

The study took into account the advantage held by incumbents seeking re-election. Some 19 constituency challengers who did not have a Twitter account got elected. Dr McMahon said just one challenging rural TD who was not on Facebook was elected.

There was no “bounce” for candidates who had both Twitter and Facebook accounts, he said.

Dr McMahon said another striking feature of the study was that Facebook and Twitter appeared to suit different parties in different ways. Sinn Féin was “well out in front” in terms of popularity on Facebook, alongside Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, “but the least popular on Facebook were the Greens, the Socialist Party and People Before Profit”.

On Twitter, however, the Green Party and Socialist Party proved more popular than Sinn Féin and People Before Profit candidates.

Dr McMahon said Sinn Féin had also “seriously pushed” Martin McGuinness on Facebook.