In April this year, Theresa May made the announcement outside number 10 Downing Street that there was going to be a snap election on June 8th. The early election was called as clear divisions in parliament at the time risked hampering the Brexit negotiations, and as disarray persisted within Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, the Conservatives seemed set on achieving the goal of a landslide majority.
Despite this, against all expectations, the Conservative Party lost their secured majority and 13 seats across the country, leading the party to rely upon the DUP for ‘confidence and supply’ support to form a minority government. There have been many factors which have been questioned as to why this snap election result came about, although one of the most undeniable is the ‘youth-quake’ which seems to have painted many constituencies an even brighter shade of red.
According to a survey taken by YouGov, age became a clear dividing line in British politics, with 66% of 18-19-year olds voting Labour to that of 19% to the Conservatives. For 20-24-year olds, 62% voted for Labour, whilst 22% for the Conservative party. In 2015, voter turnout among 18 – 24 year olds were estimated to be 43%, compared to a 66.1% turnout over all in 2017. Of course, polling in tradition has usually shown the Labour Party to be more favourable to young people, however this year the proportion has jumped to 63% for 18 – 29-year olds, putting the overall youth turnout at 58%.
So, why did this happen? What caused young people to engage in Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed policies by the masses?
One of the reasons is the undeniable impact social media can have on not only how people perceive a party’s policies but also the party leader themselves. Social media activity within the two parties shows a clear lead for Labour, with almost 200,000 more Twitter followers and 400,000 more likes on Facebook than the Tories.
The main stimulus for social media engagement comes down to the intensity of a party's activity online and the content they choose to put out. Whilst the Tories focused online advertisements on Theresa May’s strength as a leader and the weakness of Jeremy Corbyn during the snap election campaigning period, Labour chose to declare the party as a collective and positive social movement, which would have resonated more with a younger generation of voters.
For the leader of a political party, the public’s perception of them can make or break an entire campaign. Although the backing of Theresa May’s leadership was a strong one, the Prime Minister found it hard to shake away the mantra which referred to her as ‘robotic’, making her seemingly unrelatable to young people who wanted a clear character to vote for.
A crucial way in which Corbyn fought off the harsh print media criticism of his inabilities to win the election, was largely due to the use of his social media podium to project another narrative of what the Labour party stood for and its idealistic vision for the country. As a recent study found that only 29% of young people have read a printed newspaper in the last 12 months, in contrast to the 99% of young people who use social media every week, it becomes apparent how Corbyn used this to secure the youth turnout that the Labour Party achieved.
The lack of an online presence in Theresa May herself is shown by her infrequent twitter posts and lack of followers, which currently resides at 388,000, in comparison to past and present opposition party leaders such as Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage who have seized online campaigning, earning them a platform of one million followers each; a platform with the ability to reach even more undecided or swaying voters.
Up until recently, the Prime Minister’s twitter account still showed the same tired, 4-month-old slogan as the header and still is yet to tweet since the 7th of September. Since that same date, Jeremy Corbyn has made 260 tweets and interactions using his twitter account to drum up support for his party. Recently, the Tories are looking to resurrect their youth wing and harbour the new slogan of ‘a country that works for everyone’, in the hopes of presenting what the party has to offer young people in the next election and in the present.
It is in the urgent interests of the Conservative Party to adapt to the new age of social media that is clearly having a clear impact on political opinion and particular the youth vote. Ignoring an online presence and instead investing more into the dying traditional ways of gaining support will only and is only increasing Labour’s chance at an even higher percentage of the youth turnout in 2022. Letting people know what the party stands for and what impacts it will have on their lives can make a vote that much easier, so it’s time the Tories finally use the online platform they already have, to their own advantage.
The fact that the party and the Prime Minister’s online account seem to be changing slowly in appearance ahead of the Conservative Party conference, shows the possibility of the party’s acknowledgment of the error they have made in the past by misjudging the enormity of the internet age and hopefully by 2022, the issue which many members and MPs alike are bringing alight will be resolved.