You Can’t Vote It Forward

Why facebook and Twitter discourse will have a negligible effect on election results.

WrittenBy:Kunal Singh
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  The guardian angel of the world’s largest democratic exercise, the Election Commission, has announced the schedule of the general elections. Along with a meteoric rise in the number of voters vis-à-vis 2009, there is a massive upsurge in the number of prospective voters who live their lives on the social media. Suddenly, everyone seems to be taking the latter lot very seriously. A Cobrapost sting even revealed how political parties are willing to buy likes and followers. We have all the numbers and connections simplified for you here:

The total followers of the three parties, assuming no overlap, forms less than 6% of users on Twitter. While the sum of followers of Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal form 27.6% of the total Twitter users in India. Extending the same logic (i.e. no user likes more than one party) to facebook, people who like the pages of the respective political parties – AAP, Congress and BJP – form 6.5% of total facebook users. Again, assuming no overlap, the number of likes on Narendra Modi’s and Arvind Kejriwal’s pages equals 16.6% of total facebook users. (Rahul Gandhi, of course, prefers talking about women’s empowerment in one-on-one interviews rather than engaging with women or men on the social media.)

It will be fair to say that first-time voters are better represented on social media than repeat voters. Let us take the representation to be 60% and 15% respectively (both assumptions are on the higher side). Then the new number of voters on facebook and Twitter would be around 7 million (98mn x 12% x 60%) and 1.8 million (98mn x 12% x 15%) respectively. Accounting for the overlap, we can come to a figure of around 8 million new voters on social media. Conventional wisdom will reveal that the voter turnout out of these new social media voters would be less than usual. However, on the higher side, let us say their turnout will be 70%. That makes 5.6 million “new votes” in 2014.

Two big assumptions that we have made while arriving at this figure are:

1) Ignoring the number of deaths among voters who voted in 2009, and
2) The number of voters present on social media who will not necessarily be voting for the first time. The first assumption means that the number of new voters must be greater than 98 million but we have offset this “reality” by taking our earlier assumptions of social media representation and turnout on the higher side. The second assumption is difficult to account for. However, one can say that old voters will not get as influenced by social media as new voters. It is also no guarantee that new voters, as a block itself, will get influenced by social media. We can say that there will be around 6 million votes that will be partially or completely influenced by the discourse on the social media.

The number of urban constituencies is close to 200, while the rest are rural or semi-urban. Let us make another assumption that 5 million of the 6 million votes arrived at earlier belong to these 200 urban constituencies. This would make 25,000 votes per urban constituency who would be influenced and using social media. Given that the average number of votes that would be cast per constituency, assuming 60% turnout, would be 900k (815mn x 60% / 543), the 25,000 votes would not make much of a difference. Moreover these 25,000 votes are not decidedly going to a single party. We can safely assume – after taking so many assumptions in the interim – that the partisan discourse on facebook and Twitter isn’t potent enough to make an equally partisan impact on the elections.

Why then is our social media feed so cluttered with political brouhaha? Well, remember the Pareto principle? 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the cause. In fact, 10% of the users of social media create 90% of the political noise. The principle of “one man-one vote and one vote-one value” given by Dr Ambedkar, ensures that the Pareto principle fails at the doorstep of Indian electoral system.



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