UK Election 2010: The Dog That Didn’t Bark

Back on April 5, I said we were about to witness Britain’s first “social media election.” And I predicted that UK Election 2010 “will be fought on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs.” However, Britain’s first social media election seems more like “Silver Blaze.” That’s the Sherlock Holmes short story that features the dog that didn’t bark.

Sherlock Holmes in "Silver Blaze.

Image via Wikipedia

First, let’s look at the latest clues. Then, I’ll call your attention “to the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

According to the general election 2010: poll of polls in, Conservatives lead with 35.75 percent, Labour is second with 28.00 percent, and Liberal Democrats are third with 27.00 percent.

According to UK General Election 2010 Opinion Poll Tracker in the Telegraph, the average of polls have Conservative at 34 percent, LibDem at 29 percent, and Labour at 28 percent.

In other words, the third leaders debate, which drew 8.4 million viewers across BBC1, BBC HD, the BBC News channel and Sky News on Thursday night, didn’t change the dynamic of the three-horse race as much as first one did. And it may not have changed the dynamic of the campaign as much as the Tory press proclaimed it had.

If you look at Google Insights for Search, you’ll see a different picture. Web search interest in Gordon Brown surged past Nick Clegg and David Cameron on Wednesday following what is now being called “Bigotgate.”

If you look at the last 30 days, the surge in web search interest for Gordon Brown on April 28 and 29 was much higher than the surge in web search interest for Nick Clegg on April 15 and 16 following the first debate. So, maybe voters were going online to get more information about something that had just been reported offline. This may explain why opinion is split on the significance of “Bigotgate,” with many voters saying, “It’s a storm in a teacup. Mr Brown was simply trying to let off steam in private. We should not think the worse of him.”

If you compare how many Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and YouTube views each of the three parties had a week ago on Sunday, April 25, and how many they had yesterday, May 2, here’s what you’ll see:

The Labour Party’s Facebook fans increased from 29,852 to 34,908 in the past week. UK Labour’s Twitter followers barely moved from 15,371 to 15,997. But total upload views on theuklabourparty’s channel on YouTube jumped dramatically from 1,333,861 to 1,475,625.

In fact, the Labour channel has five YouTube honors:

    • #28 – Most Viewed (This Week) – Gurus – United Kingdom


    • #65 – Most Viewed (This Week) – Partners – United Kingdom


    • #80 – Most Viewed (This Month) – United Kingdom


    • #7 – Most Viewed (This Month) – Gurus – United Kingdom


    • #27 – Most Viewed (This Month) – Partners – United Kingdom


The most popular Labour video with 101,290 views is Labour Manifesto 2010: A future fair for all. It has three YouTube honors:

    • #14 – Most Viewed (This Month)) – News & Politics – United Kingdom


    • #28 – Top Favorited (This Month)) – News & Politics – United Kingdom


    • #51 – Top Rated (This Month)) – News & Politics – United Kingdom


Meanwhile, the Conservatives’ Facebook fans jumped from 64,658 to 78,440 in the past week. The Conservatives’ Twitter followers increased from 28,632 to 29,882. And total upload views on webcameronuk’s channel on YouTube jumped dramatically from 2,061,288 to 2,451,793.

In fact, the Conservatives channel has five YouTube honors:

    • #36 – Most Viewed (Today) – Directors


    • #23 – Most Viewed (This Week)


    • #10 – Most Viewed (This Week) – Directors


    • #29 – Most Viewed (This Month)


    • #11 – Most Viewed (This Month) – Directors


The most popular Conservative video with 157,671 views is David Cameron: What it takes to change a country. It has five YouTube honors:

    • #30 – Most Discussed (This Month)) – United Kingdom


    • #3 – Most Discussed (This Month)) – News & Politics – United Kingdom


    • #31 – Most Discussed (This Month)) – News & Politics


    • #9 – Most Viewed (This Month)) – News & Politics – United Kingdom


    • #26 – Top Favorited (This Month)) – News & Politics – United Kingdom


Finally, the Liberal Democrats’ Facebook fans jumped from 65,236 to 78,750 in the past week. The LibDems’ Twitter followers increased from 17,440 to 18,910. And the channel views on LibDem’s channel on YouTube increased from 117,173 to 123,287.

In fact, the LibDems’ channel has one YouTube honor: #83 – Most Viewed (This Month) – Directors – United Kingdom.

The most popular LibDem video with 32,139 views is Liberal Democrats: Say goodbye to broken promises. It has four YouTube honors:

    • #28 – Most Discussed (This Month)) – News & Politics – United Kingdom


    • #56 – Most Viewed (This Month)) – News & Politics – United Kingdom


    • #12 – Top Favorited (This Month)) – News & Politics – United Kingdom


    • #14 – Top Rated (This Month)) – News & Politics – United Kingdom


Now, I confess that I was looking forward to “a signature cultural event” like 2006: The Year of the ‘Macaca’, or an outcome as dramatic as U.S. Senator Barack Oabama winning “The YouTube Presidency” in 2008. But, all I’ve found so far is something that’s been mostly dull and generally as tactical as a get-out-the-vote campaign.

I’m not exaggerating.

I went to Labour’s website on Sunday and encountered a pop-up ad that read: “This is a word of mouth election. We need you to tell your online networks that you will be voting Labour on 6 May.” The pop-up invited you to sign in with Twitter or login to Facebook.

I went to the Conservatives website and encountered a splash screen that invited me to “share this Contract with your friends” via Delicious, Digg, Facebook or a variety of other buttons.

I went to the Liberal Democrats website and encountered a spash screen that invited me to get “Election 2010 News by Email.”

Email? Yes, email!

Now, Britain’s first Internet election hasn’t been entirely dull or totally tactical.

On April 9, the Labour candidate in Moray, Stuart MacLennan, was sacked after tweets surfaced showing that he had described old people as “coffin dodgers,” branded one woman as a “boot,” and joked about slavery. It was called the first “Twitter suicide of the election.”

On April 22, David Worsfold of the Parliamentary Connections blog was one of the first to ask, Is #nickcleggsfault the UK General Election’s Twitter moment?

And from April 28 to May 1, 33 news articles were written about the YouTube Facebook Digital Debate. In fact, 141,329 people like Democracy UK on Facebook and ukelection’s Channel on YouTube has 643,847 total upload views.

Brown’s most popular answer is on immigration.

Cameron’s most popular answer is on protecting private property.

And Clegg’s most popular answer is on the Digital Economy Bill.

In contrast, check out Hadouken! perform their Labour Party anthem, Nu Brand’s Conservative Party Anthem, and Right Said Fred perform their Lib Dem Party anthem on BBC News.

I can’t imagine any of the mainstream media in the U.S. asking politicians, bands, and a comedian to create election songs to sum up what the Democrats and Republicans stand for. Well, maybe Saturday Night Live or Comedy Central would, but let’s not bicker and argue.

So, maybe the online dog barked and we just didn’t hear it. How could that happen? Maybe it’s because there was also a pack of offline dogs barking in the night-time.

One of the reasons why the “macaca moment” had such a dramatic impact on the outcome of the 2006 United States Senate election in Virginia was because the mainstream media wasn’t covering the campaign closely — because U.S. Senator George Allen (R-Virginia) was considered a shoo-in.

And he probably was until S. R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old campaign worker for Jim Webb, the Democratic challenger, uploaded “Allen’s Listening Tour” on August 14, 2006. In fact, it took Allen more than a week before he recognized the magnitude of the problem and apologized to Sidarth. By then, the mainstream media was paying attention — and Webb went on to beat Allen that November.

And one of the reasons why YouTube played such an important role in the Obama for America (OFA) campaign was because OFA uploaded its first video to YouTube on February 10, 2007, almost 22 months before the election.

YouTube launched You Choose 08, which featured videos from all the presidential campaigns, on March 1, 2007. And the CNN/YouTube debates were held on July 23, 2007, for Democratic candidates and on November 28, 2007, for Republican candidates. The three presidential debates on national television weren’t held until September and October of 2008.

So, the Internet had plenty of time to shape the 2008 presidential campaign before the mainstream media jumped in to play “Final Jeopardy!”

In contrast, the videos for the YouTube Facebook Digital Debate weren’t uploaded until six days after the second of the leaders’ debates had been televised. And the day that the YouTube Facebook Digital Debate results were uploaded, Wednesday, April 28, 2010, was the day that Prime Minister Gordon Brown forgot that his microphone was still on as his motorcade sped away from a stop on the campaign trail.

In addition, the spoof wars started 48 hours after UK Election 2010 had started. Now, the U.S. doesn’t have anything like the billboard campaigns that are famous — or infamous — in the U.K. So, is it any wonder that the funny YouTube clips we saw at Labservative shared the spotlight with the equally funny spoof posters during the British campaign?

That’s why we haven’t heard the online dog barking. The pack of offline dogs has been creating too much noise.

But there’s another dog in Britain’s first Internet election that hasn’t barked — at least not yet. It’s the ubiquitous “swingometers” that purport to forecast the number of seats in the House of Commons that will change hands on May 6.

The latest one on BBC News indicates that, if Conservatives get 35 percent of the vote, Labour gets 28 percent, and Liberal Democrats get 28 percent, then Conservatives will get 278 House of Commons seats, Labour will get 261, and LibDems will get only 82. That would result in a hung parliament.

America hasn’t seen anything like the swingometers. Imagine how American voters would react if a swingometer told them that no matter who they voted for in the presidential election the Electoral College wouldn’t reflect the popular vote. There would be lawsuits over voter suppression.

Well, how have the British voters reacted after playing with the swingometers that seem to be on virtually every major media site in the U.K.? That’s the dog that didn’t bark.

Yes, yes, we can blame the first-past-the-post system used in the U.K., which needs to be reformed. Or, we can blame the swingometers for telling LibDem supporters that their vote doesn’t matter, while giving Labour supporters the false impression that the party “has a fairly large buffer zone before facing total Armageddon,” as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight said last week.

Either way, that’s what Sherlock Holmes would call “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” It’s the dog that hasn’t barked yet — and we may not hear it until the next general election.

If you want a detailed analysis of this forecast, I recommend reading Is the Lib-Dem Surge for Real? (Part 3: Strategy) by Renard Sexton of FiveThirtyEight. That website is in a Nerdfight: Episode IV — Return of the Tories, according to Silver.

I know, I know, these discussions are quite technical. But this explains why Britain’s first Internet election has been mostly dull and generally as tactical as a get-out-the-vote campaign. The swingometers sucked all the excitement out of UK Election 2010.

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