EXAMINATION OF POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS TARGETING VOTERS VIA SOCIAL NETWORK SITE AND HOW IT AFFECTS VOTERS’ PREFERENCE
The use of social networking sites utilization in politics is obviously continued to grow in recent times. Since Barack Obama broke the world record in the history of social networks use for political purpose during the 2008 US presidential elections, many nations and politicians across the globe have continued to embrace the platform to mobilize their citizens and shape candidates preference on candidate and towards active participation in the political process. This study examines the impact of social networking sites on voters’ preference on the 2015 presidential elections. The study was anchored on the agenda setting theory that shows that information posted on social networking sites plays a vital role in shaping people’s perception on topics. The survey research method was used to generate data for this research work. Findings show that social networking sites play a vital role on voters’ preference. The study recommended that political parties should utilize the social networking sites in the subsequent elections in Nigeria and see it as an avenue to generate more votes.
1.1 Background of the Study
The advert of internet and technology has exposed majority of the global population to different interactive platforms on which different type of information is exchanged which might significantly have effect on human behavior, decision and judgment. No doubt, one of the most remarkable developments in the last century is the internet. This information super-high way has continued to revolutionalize the way and manner information is shared in countries and across international boundaries. Recent development in the world of information captured by Bawa (2009:7) states that:
Communication has completely been revlutionaized. Today, communication as we know it is becoming more and more wireless. Communication between people across the world is now instant and comes across several platforms. Whether it is on social networking sites: Youtube, Facebook, Instagrams, blogs, twitter or through voice over protocols, the facts remains that the internet and its features has completely changed and continues to change the communication landscape forever.
Baran (2009) supported the above assertion and opined that it is not an overstatement to say that the internet often referred to as the worldwide web, has changed the world, not to mention the other mass medias. Agbo (2015) added that in addition to being a powerful communication media, the internet is at the center of virtually all media convergence we see around. Bittner (1989) explained that the internet employs a set of standard protocol to create an effective way for people to communicate and share data with each other. It also serves as a link of several high speed computer networks all over the world which allows users to share resources and communicate effectively. Bansal, (2007) added more on the internet that the internet represents one of the most successful example of the benefits of sustained investment and commitment into research and development in the technical field of information processing, retrieval and distribution.
The internet’s superiority over all other forms of information technology rest on its ability to reach four corners of the each instantly and give way to achieve possible exchange of information especially in most of the developed nation (Agbo 2015). The origin of the internet can be traced back to US Department of Defense usage of its as a way to protect government communication in the event of a military strike which was started as APRANET network in 1969.
Capron (1996:6) sited that the US military created the APRANET network in 1970 to scatter their computer so that no single nuclear bomb could wipe out their computing capacity. APRANET’s popularity continued to spread among researchers especially tertiary institution and libraries and in 1980’s the National Science Foundation, whose NSF Net linked several high speed computers, took charge of what had become now the internet.
It is this singular features that made communication scholars like Capron (1996:6) to describe the internet as “a loosely organized collection of networks for it has no central offered service and no online index to tell you what information is available”. He further said that the great attraction of the internet users is that once they have paid a signed up fee regardless of any inbuilt extra charges, subscribers seemed to have unhindered access to large amount of information. However as time went by, many people wanted to put their ideas into the ARPANET. The growth of the internet continued in popularity and earlier studies indicated that users had little trouble verbalizing their needs when using the internet. To this end, Dominic (2009) suggested that people consciously choose the medium that could best satisfy their needs and those audiences are able to recognize their reason for making media choices.
Akinfeleye (2011), states that the internet has given birth to a number of communication platforms where users freely exchange all kind of information. An aspects of these communication platform that has informed this study is what scholars of communication called social network and they consists of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin etc. Sutein (2009) sited that social networking sites are new information network and information technology using a form of communication utilization interactive and user produce content and interpersonal relationships are created and maintained.
Pakhare (2011) believed that the emergence of the internet as the new mass medium of the 21st century now changes the mass media substantially. Information can be distributed at high speed, low cost and broad scope and as a result there is egalitarian access to the production and the consumption of news. Today’s social networking sites have made the world a “global village” (Just like Marshall McLuhan predicted) where what happens in one part of the world is known instantly and simultaneously around the world. That is the quick transfer of information overriding the challenges of time and distance (Friedman, 2007). Social networking sites have gradually become one of the most important means of influencing the society and this influence is based exclusively on its social aspect of interaction and participation.
Spierings and Kristof (2010) stated that as social networking site gain more popularity and scope, its impacts on voters political and cultural perceptions cannot be underestimated as social networks sites practically influence the way users interacts, communicate and make decisions on social, cultural and political issues on today’s world. Thus, in the last decade or so, the potentials of the social networks sites in terms of its ability to link directly to targeted audience have continued to attract patronage from several quarters, one of such quarters is politics. Farwa and Hamdar (2008) remarked that politics and her patrons have suddenly realized that the beautiful bride is the social networking site. In pre-television era, politics, campaign researcher indicated that the mass media had minimal effect on voters. In the last decade, that is the post-television era, the mass media were recognized as major component of politics and political campaigns depends heavily on both electronic and print media. However, the internet via its multi social networking sites is providing modern and instantaneous approach to political campaigns (Farha and Hamdar, 2008).
In a nutshell, social networks site are Medias that are used basically for social interactions, using highly accessible and sealable communication techniques. Okoli (2011) observed that social networking sites have the potential to facilitate social capital more than could be previously imagined. Beyond new and current imagination on associations, these sites allow people to reach and re-establish old relationship. Those who remember the days before these site will recall lost high school acquaintances and forgotten business associates for generations” there is no such thing: no friend is unreachable.
Caprini, (2000) found that while most connections are made between people that have (or had) a real world relationship many on these sites are “friends” with people whom they met via the social networks. Despite not actually met in the outside world, many have developed meaningful relationships. Because these sites allows users to search for an established group with other people that has similar interest (regardless of the geographical location), these connection have the potential to inspire social and civic activity in ways that are new and exciting. These sites makes it possible to send and receive information between individuals who otherwise would not have the opportunity or ability to do so.
Social networking site have strong advantage over other traditional medias of being brief, instantaneous and fast to impact the intended message on the mind of the users. (David et al, 2002) social networking site is not new in Nigeria or across the world with the widespread adoption of communication gadget like personal computer and phones in the mid 90’s. Services such as chatroom, news group and instant messages (Yahoo, my space etc.) were among the early attraction for users of the worldwide web and social networks. What is new however is the attention that is given to expanding form of social media – facebookk, instagram and twitter – as a means of not only creating virtual community but as a way of instantly communicating and moving calls for action to this communities (social networking sites).
Plutzer (2002) recorded that gone are the days when message on this sites are considered trivial, providing a means of other marketing to targeted groups or posting statements describing ordinary person activities. In late 2006 when Twitter was introduced and launched, its creator stated that the purpose of “tweets” was to tell your friends (followers) what your are doing (Anderson, 2008). However, social networking sites in the second decade of the 21st century is used not just for frivolity reasons, but for serious social and political messaging.
In terms of political activities, Shashi (2011) noted that the social networks comprising mainly of Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Instagram, Linkedin, Hunch, Myspace and others is becoming more common as politicians realize it is convenient way to connect with their constitutents. Through social networks, this days politicians makes statements, open remarks and even as specific questions. This is addition to also responding to questions asked by members of his constituents.
In the latest phase of politics (especially Nigeria) it will take at least a second look at the political space in Nigeria to realize something has changed. A space that was all about the power brokers and media moguls has become so deregulated that one could consi8der it the freest space in Nigeria right now (Sunstein 2001). It is one of many tools helping to amplify the voice of average Nigerians, taking ordinary voice and making them extraordinary by bringing them to homes, offices and places where most politicians and parties would never had reached under different circumstances.
Ansolabehere and Iyonger (1995) claim that social networking sites started as a playground for mostly young and jobless people. But today these social network sites has become a battle ground of what was arguably be the most competitive election in the Nigeria history. The 2015 presidential election no doubt witnessed the remarkable use of social media sites and the impact as a political communication tools in Nigeria in a bid to shape the voters preferences and choice towards the parties and candidates.
In Nigeria, the social media sites has hugely redefined the method of political communications and campaign leading to a significant shift towards the social networking site usage in the electoral process unlike previous times where the network television and newspaper dominate the coverage of election / political campaigns and information. In other nations presidential election that benefitted from these medias (SNS) is the US, UK and other developed countries. President Obama achieve a great success with the use and adoption of social networks. Swaine (2010) cited the current British Prime Minister, David Cameroon setting up a page that attracted over 19,000 supporters within days and even the brief foray on twitter by the formal P.M, Gorden Brown as perfect example of the rising tide on the use of social networking site in politics. Positive energy (2010:1) concludes on the emerging potentials of the social network in political campaign thus:
The game is changing fast. Any political consultant (new media or social networking consultant) who knows his / her onion must have a complete grasp of the potentials of the social media. These media include Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Red State, Cafemoon, Bedo,Bladeplanet, Instagrams, Linkedin, Del.iciou.us, Dig, Reddit, Furl, Stumbleupon and Mix. These media will impact the election in selling a bill for the goods. But they already are having a huge impact.
Inspite of the absence and decay in available infrastructure, emerging economics like Nigeria seem to be catching the ‘bug’ of this latest social network sites campaign phenomenon. Soriwes and Fabiyi (2010) reported that formal president Goodluck Jonathan embraced the social networking site when he setup and even announced his presidential ambition on Facebook, a popular social networking site – others followed.
Olumo (2014) stated that the main opposition party of the “government in power (before the presidential election in 2015), the All Progressive Congress would be considered as the most beneficial of the values that social networking site brought to the table. Long before the merging of parties to form APC in February 2013, Olumo (2014) stated that there have been different congregation on social networks sites like Facebook, Twitter and instagram to express their anger against the government activities.
Supporting the above statement, Fashanun (2013) stated that in April 2010, there was the “enough is enough” protest to campaign for the then vice president Goodluck Jonathan to be made the acting president after the death of the president Umaru Yar’Adua. A move that eventually led to the “doctrine of necessity” that got National Assembly to name Jonathan the acting president. Among others political protest on social network site is the “occupy Nigeria”.
These impacts has been a strong reason for political parties to take advantage of the power of social networking sites. Thereby posting large campaign messages on these sites. Ikhariale (2014) revealed that; politicians have seen and felt the power of social networking site and have latched on it with considerable zeal. Others supporting this view is Oseni (2014). A tremendous change has occurred in the Nigerian Political process and it is the rise of social networking sites for political usage.
With 65% of voters consisting of ages of 18-34 in Nigeria and being active social networking sites users, many campaign workers used the social networks as a significant tool in enciting the young demographic to go to the polls and cast their vote. Thereby using the social media change preferences of the voters on these sites Gift (2013). The growing presence and popularity of political parties and various political figures on social networks is evidence that political parties are “approaching and speaking to the youth and young people of Nigeria at their level.
In a study done by Brown, (2013) revealed that the APC clamor and solicit for votes with a catchy phrase “change” all over the social network sites and it serves as an icon for hope and identification of the party candidates. The move which paid off well for them as it sink in the mind of both old and young giving them reason to change party and power. This also brought to the fore the important of social networking sites in political strategy as the social networking site usage is fully awakened.
However, Olumo (2014) stated that social networking site is based on the psychology of social behavior and not the technology in itself. Social networks are all about people and building relationships with them and this allows a platform that create a behavioural pattern or “meme” to take hold and spread rapidly online, this makes the social networking site a viable tool to create awareness for a political brand.
The objective of any political campaign may be basically divided into two. The being to build a political relationship and foster trust between the electorate and the candidate and secondly for the electorate to cast their vote for the candidate after a relationship and trust have been established (Ifukor 2010). The honesty, competence, trustworthy and vision of a political brands needs to be perceived by the electorate for this relationship to be established and all this can be through the social networks as it allows transparency between the electorate and the candidate.
Social networking sites messages are persuasive and ubiquitous. It is important for all politician to understand it and leverage it in order to gain public acceptance and interact with voters so as to get their opinion and views about various policies of government. The use of the social networking sites as a campaign strategy in the 2015 presidential election was not only important, it is crucial as millions of people are involved in using social networking sites daily especially the youth who have before the social networks age boycott elections in Nigeria. Social networks sites enable politician to be opportune to be in touch with large numbers of voters quickly constantly and at a low cost compared with other forms campaign (Fashahun, 2013).
Social network sites enable politicians to create interesting post to try to engage followers, similar to the tactics employed by a brand or media company. This according to Soriwei and Fabiyi (2010) is an indication that the Nigeria political landscape is beginning to embrace social networks and its potentials in terms of reaching would be voters and the Nigerian populace in general. Prominent politicians have engage in the social media sites to facilitate online campaign and the likes include; Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar, Ibrahim Babangida, Olushola Saraki, Hammed Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola.
As evidence by the recent 2015 presidential elections, in Nigeria, political parties especially the two dominant party (People Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressive Congress (APC)) utilized social networking site such as online networking sites, blogs, internet newspapers, news ads, etc. to campaign and mobilize also to change not only the youths preferences on their political view and choice but all the class of social networking site to vote them. This brought about a variety of interesting news and drama online in terms of propaganda and provide opportunity for users to read, responds, interact, argue and trashout issues online Oseni (2014).
Oseni 2014 stated that SNS like Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Instagram and online newspaper has become political platforms for people to voice their thought on various issues concerning the candidates and sway others towards their line of thinking with various debates, hashtags and numerous online campaign. This brought Nigerians together irrespective of political divide, ethnicity and religion on national issues.
Not only to social networking site provide information about political affiliations, candidates and their party manifestos, it also provides a platform through which voters across cultural divides can relate and interact with themselves on issues about these candidate and their parties. This is why nearly every political party in the country uses SNSs to campaign and advance it plans, message and manifestos to supporters through advertising, mobilization and organisation in all the sate of the federation (Prat and Stromberg, 2011).
The major SNS like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram were used to let known to voters how each party or particular candidate felt about a particular issue of national interest and how it can be tackled. Hence, social media became powerful enough to influence voters preferences as many voters who had fixed their minds and conscience on voting a particular party or candidate begins to change his/her mind base on certain trend, ideas or particular information they got from these SNS about the party or candidate. Information gotten by one voters was also not static, as same voters would use several internet tools and bottons to broadcast same message to their followers or other voters through many and various SNS in other to influence their followers preferences.
1.2 Problems of Study
The use of emotional appeals in political campaign to increase support for a candidate or decrease support for a challenger is a widely recognized practice and a common element of any campaign strategy, (Brade, 2006). Campaigns often seek to instill positive emotion such as zeal and hopefulness about their candidate to improve and encourage turnout and political activism while seeking to raise fear and anxiety about the opposition. Zeal tends to reinforce preference for the candidate and party, while fear and anxiety interrupt voters’ behavioral pattern and lead individual voters to look for new source of information on divergent political issues (Marcus, Pinto and Forsth, 2001).
Sources of information available to a voter vary widely including the tradition media, TV, radio and newspaper. However, with the advent of social networking site forums, most voters can access information, debate on the information and also give feedback on his own views, opinion and expectation from the party and the candidate. Although the social networking sites have helped in the just concluded elections in Nigeria, Nigerian politicians used social networking sites extensively for their campaign. In the gubernatorial, presidential and national House of Assembly elections SNS was used freely among various parties (Agbo, 2015). The question here now is did the various campaign on the SNS platforms affect voters preferences? To what extent did the social networking sites influence campaigns on the presidential election? What factors contributed to the voters’ candidate choice in the presidential election?
1.3 Objective of Study
The main objective of the study was to examine political campaigns targeting voters via social network site and how it affects voters’ preference. An analysis of 2015 presidential election with specific emphasis on voters in Bida, Niger State. The Study is Specifically sought to:
1. ascertain the rate of social networking site usage.
2. discover if social networking site have any impact on voters preference.
3. discover the lapses in the use of social networking sites for political participation and mobilization in the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria.
1.4 Research Questions
The general objective of this study is to ascertain the impact of social networking site on voters preferences in the 2015 presidential election in Bida, Niger State. The specific questions for this research are:
1. What is the rate of social networking site usage?
2. Do social networking site have any impact on voters preference?
3. What are the lapses in the use of social networking sites for political participation and mobilization in the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria?
1.5 Significance of the Study
This study will help beam the search light on the impact of social networking site on voters preferences, how the social media influence voters decisions on the party, candidate and the election in general based ont eh information they got on social networking sites. This study will help stakeholders understand that maintaining a good and healthy profile online with a cordial relationship between the party and the voters can positively influence voters’ preference. Lastly, this research work will add to the body of knowledge on the already existing scholarly materials on the impact of social networking site on voters’ preference.
1.6 Scope of the Study
The study is restricted to voters in Bida, Niger State and emphasis will be laid mostly on the people of Bida community but it is assumed that in Nigeria generally, voters similar characteristics in their choice of social networking site usage like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blogs, YouTube on the presidential, Gubernatorial and National Assembly elections. Base on this assumption the result of the finding could be generalized.Social Network Site
1.7 Limitations of the Study
The major limitation of this study is the fact that this research work is retricted to social networking site users only. And due to the limited time frame during the course of carrying out this research, the researcher was limited to voters in Bida, Niger State who are on social networking sites due to some reasons:
Insufficient finance: For a research work of this nature, it will be good for the research when the samples are from the whole state of the Federation. But due to the financial constraint the researcher is limited to the voters in Bida.
Time Constraint: The researcher has limited time frame in carrying out this topic which may or is insufficient due to time of administration of questionnaire and the research as a whole.
1.8 Definition of Terms
Voters: People who have attained the voting requirement in terms of age and has the right to vote for a candidate in an election.Social Network Site
Social Networking Site: These are online platform that allows users to create a public profile and internet with other users on the website.
Voters Preference: This refers to voters choice of political candidate in Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election.
Election: The formal process of selecting a public acceptable person for office or of accepting or rejecting a political position by voting.
Campaign: It’s an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making process within a specific group of people.
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