Romanian political parties that get online win elections. A new study shows that political parties in Romania mobilized social media networks at the last election to promote their political image and messages, and that there are now clear links between the degree of support for parties in general elections and their support online.
The study, entitled “Social Media and Political Communication: Case study – The Parliamentary Parties in Romania”, published in Global Media Journal – Pakistan Edition by Romanian scholars Nicoleta Ciacu and Tasenţe Tanase, examines the social media based communications strategies of six political parties and the effects of their many supporter initiated discussion groups.
The study was designed to identify how Romanian parliamentary parties were able to mobilize their voters through social network-mediated communication, blogs and YouTube videos, as well as to identify any potential similarities or differences between the percentage of supporters on social media networks, the electoral percentages of accessing the Parliament of Romania obtained in the 2008 parliamentary elections and the political configuration of the Parliament at the end of the parliamentary session in 2012.
Romania is a late but enthusiastic adopter of Facebook. In 2009, it recorded 110,000 users, By November 21 2010, this figure had risen 1,9 million, ranking it 47th in the world ranking of the countries with the most Facebook users. By August 2012, Romania had risen to 34th place, with around 5 million users. The older people are also using Facebook more. Of the total active population on Facebook, 30% are between 18-24 years, 30% – between 25 and 34 and 15% – between 35 and 44. In the last 3 months the age segments that registered the largest increases, of approximately 80,000 users, are those between 25-34 years old and 35-44 years old respectively. The 45‑54 years old category experienced a noticeable increase of about 40,000 users. This shows an “aging” of Facebook in Romania, something that will be very important in the context of the political communication and the formation of the online communities of people who are political issues-oriented.
The two parties that form the current coalition government, the Social Democratic Party and the National Liberal Party, were found to be very active on social media using over 80 percent of the social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Youtube, Flickr and LinkedIn analyzed in the study.
Facebrands, a Romanian social media analyst website, shows that of the 171 politics related Facebook pages in Romania, 102 belong to the politicians and political supporters of parties who sat in the 2008 to 2012 parliamentary session. The six political parties assessed in the study have 108 active discussion groups on Facebook, with 85,269 members between them. A distinction is made between these discussion groups and the parties’ official Facebook pages as debate on the group pages is often initiated by the supporters rather than the parties themselves.
The remaining 69 Facebook pages support a political cause or belong to politicians or political parties not represented in the Parliament.
The Liberal Democratic Party, that governed in the 2008 to 2012 parliamentary session, has not set up any official pages on Facebook or other forums to interact directly with party members and voters. Some supporters set up their own pages, but these are notably smaller with fewer members than pages supporting the ruling Social Democratic Party, who claim the support of over half of the total members of all the Facebook groups examined in the study.
The National Liberal Party, part of the current coalition, has the most Facebook pages, but with fewer fans than the other major parties.
The study found that parliamentary parties in Romania do not use all the social networks. Some, like the Liberal Democratic Party and the National Union for the Progress of Romania, do not run their own sites, though the Liberal Democratic Party does have Facebook pages set up by its supporters.
The number of Facebook supporters a political party had in 2012 appears to roughly match the the percentage of votes that parties received in the general election that year.
The political parties which have taken on an active role in social media have been rewarded by the the active participation of their supporters on Facebook. These supporters have initiated discussion groups and online communities, and have actively supported the parties,boosting their electoral performances. The Social Democratic Party and the National Liberal Party have been particularly successful here. The Liberal Democrat Party, by contrast, has suffered electorally for its refusal to engage directly with social media.
The number of supporters the political parties have on Facebook is of course smaller than the number of voters, but they are more influential than the average voter. They initiate campaigns or online discussion groups, act as opinion leaders in the online but also in the real world.
Social media has also personalized politics to an even greater degree. Political candidates know to post a mix of political and non political posts on their Facebook pages and to include details of hobbies, and their personal lives. Facebook in particular encourages users to share personal information.
If political parties keep the opinion leaders of social networks close, they will be able to get their political message out more effectively, and will reach more people as the number of opinion leaders on Facebook increases. This will “revive” the old communication model developed by Paul Lazarsfeld in 1955, called the “two-step flow of communication”. This theory argues that opinion leaders are the ones who affect the interpretation of the media messages. In other words, the media message is not directly interpreted by the public, but mediated through interpersonal communication and the contact with the opinion leaders. The social media revolution has revived this model of interaction.
The complete study was originally published in the Pakistan Edition of the Global Media Journal.
The whole research „Social Media and Political Communication: Case study – The Parliamentary Parties in Romania”, published in the scientific journal Global Media Journal – Pakistan Edition, can be found in extenso here.
Photocredit: European Parliament / Flickr CC