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Sharing Means Caring… And Voting

Elections are media events and have been for decades. Voters are, in democracies, the ultimate arbiter. Each one processes election information uniquely; agreeing, disagreeing, dismissing, engaging or any possible combination. Campaign strategies focus on motivating as well as discouraging and sometimes confusing. Mass media tools are important, new media tools vital.

one among manyThough the ink is barely dry on those 32 million ballots campaign professionals, consultants, media buyers, ad agencies, broadcasters and publishers are formulating questions about what did and did not sway UK voters. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party fared badly, losing a parliamentary majority that seemed, two months ago, locked in. Answers will be forthcoming, just not always for public consumption.

The impact of the UKs vociferous newspapers is a traditional post-election parlor game. Only Millennials have no recollection of the self-congratulatory headline topping the front page of tabloid The Sun in 1992: “It’s The Sun Wot Won It.” And most every media watcher at the time agreed the rabid negative coverage in The Sun about Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock pushed the vote to the Conservative Party and John Major. More studied analysis, years later, showed The Sun had little or no impact on voters.

The “snap” parliamentary elections held last week (June 9) brought out the expected flurry of news coverage, which divided newspapers along expected political lines. Conservative Party stalwarts The Sun, Daily Mail, the Telegraph and Daily Express made arguments against Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and for Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May. They were joined by the Times and the Financial Times in endorsing the Conservative Party message. More left-leaning Daily Mirror, the Guardian and Daily Record generally presented the opposite. These positions have not changed in decades.

The right-bent tabloids were all in through the final days, portraying Mr. Corbyn as “a terrorist’s friend” (Sun) and “Marxist extremist” (Sun) who “will tax your work, your garden, your home and your inheritance” (Daily Mail). UK news media reported next to nothing election-related on voting day (June 8), a legally required day of reflection. With results known it was, predictably, shoot the messenger: “Theresa Dismay” (Sun), “Theresa on ropes” (Daily Mail), “May’s poll nightmare” (Times). The reasonably centrist Independent reported (June 8), complete with videos, people buying the right-wing tabloids in bulk and delivering them to the closest trash bin, sometimes on fire. The Guardian (June 10) published a verse by UK poet laureate Carol Anne Duffy: “When she woke, her nose was bloody, difficult.”

While there has been considerable recent discussion - in the UK and elsewhere - questioning the degree to which newspapers affect voter behavior the power of television is paramount. All UK television channels that produce news and public affairs programming gave extensive time to the “snap” election. Televised debates were organized and voters were invited to ask questions live; PM May participated only in TV events that avoided eye contact with Mr. Corbyn.

Under UK media rules broadcasters are required to “show impartiality” during election cycles, which regulator OFCOM has the power to enforce. There is no Fox News equivalent in the UK though concerns have often been raised regarding the future stance of Sky News as 21st Century Fox pursues a full take-over of Sky plc. A diminished Conservative Party in the UK Parliament might prefer - again - to sideline that transaction, suggested business news outlet CNBC (June 9). 21st Century Fox is principally controlled by the Murdoch family, which also owns Sun and Times publisher News UK through News Corporation.

Based on the impartiality rule, radio broadcasters shunned a ska protest tune pointedly critical of PM May and traditional Conservative Party policies that topped the streaming and download charts in the election’s last week. The refusal of broadcasters - BBC and commercial radio - to give the tune airplay attracted significant attention. The associated video was downloaded 2.5 million times by election eve, reported the Guardian (June 7), a story which was followed by traditional media, online media and social media. Voter turnout among 18 to 34 year olds, according to Sky News exit polls (June 9), hit 66%, up from 43% two years ago.

No analysis of election campaigns - almost anywhere - can ignore the new media effect, social media in particular. The main political parties made extensive use of new media magic. Micro-targeting put tailor-made messages in front of specific audiences. Labour Party campaign efforts to motivate voters included one-to-one messaging outreach.

Smart people will certainly be sorting through mounds of data to arrive at conclusions about new media’s effect on the UK general election. One opening premise is that sharing is indicative, better than advertising. People who share articles, comments, videos ( within their social media circles are motivated

"You can't buy shares,” said digital political strategist Andrew Bleeker to BBC News (June 10). “You can buy exposure to content, but shares have to come from genuine enthusiasm.” The BBC news article was headlined “Was it Facebook wot swung it?”

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