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By Bishop of Leeds
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Elections Expert Wants MP Hopefuls To Stop Obsessing About Social Media

Conservative MPs take a selfie outside 10 Downing Street (Alamy)

2 min read

Social media may not be the most effective way for prospective MP candidates to endear themselves to voters, as according to one elections expert, the political reach of online platforms “can be overstated”.

Professor Tim Bale told PoliticsHome that candidates hoping to replace MPs who are stepping down will “have to do absolutely everything they can” to increase their name recognition ahead of the election, but questioned how much modern media is the best way to do that. 

A record number of MPs will stand down from parliament ahead of the next election, meaning even where existing parties are expected to hold their seats, people will be voting for a new person, making the forthcoming battle at the ballot box all the more challenging for many. 

“Incumbency is a big advantage,” Bale said. 

“They don’t have the name recognition that the departing MP has got, and obviously they will have to do absolutely everything they can in the next weeks or months to get their name in front of voters.” 

Bale, who wrote a book about the last general election in 2019, felt the decline of local media meant that candidates would be searching for alternative platforms, but was "not sure social media has completely replaced those more mass sources of information”. 

“The extent to which those platforms actually reach the vast majority of voters – who even if they’re on those platforms aren’t on them for the politics – I think can be overstated,” he explained. 

“There’s potential there, but I'm just not sure that most people are on Facebook or Instagram or TikTok for the politics.”

Parties’ social media spending has come under more scrutiny in recent years, as campaigners have used advertising and posting on popular platforms to try and reach more voters.

Physical campaign materials that arrive in voters’ letterboxes is still a key way candidates will introduce themselves and their policies to their electorate, and while Bale thinks it might end up in “the bin”, he argues that it could still be more engaging for voters than content on social media. 

“I would suggest that actually, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that voters will pay more attention to a leaflet on the way from the letterbox to the bin than they will to an ad on Facebook or Instagram or TikTok,” he said. 

An official election date has not yet been set, but because it must at least be called by the end of they year, campaigning is well underway in constituencies across the country. It is currently expected that an election is most likely in the autumn. 

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