THE BLOG

The Web Is Bringing People Into Politics - But Are Politicians Keeping Up?

20/04/2015 13:01 BST | Updated 22/06/2015 16:59 BST

A revolution in technology over the past decade has shaken up everything from how we share and consume news and ideas, to how we shop or find a date. We live in an on-demand world, and as we enter the final weeks of the 2015 election, we're seeing how democracy is also being reshaped by the web.

At Change.org, we've seen our UK users grow from 100,000 in 2011 to over seven million today. This explosion in people-powered politics has seen campaigners highlight the housing crisis by helping save the New Era estate in London, free Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British Iranian woman jailed in Iran for watching a volleyball game and a campaign to pardon the 49,000 men convicted under the same laws of "gross indecency" as WWII codebreaker Alan Turing.

Online campaigning is popular because building a support network that previously took weeks or months to build can now be done within hours or days. What's more, these movements deliver results. We see about 10 petitions reach victory each week on our UK site, proving that anyone with a laptop and a story to tell can start a compelling campaign that captures the imagination of others and ultimately goes on to win.

MPs from across the political spectrum are starting to sit up and take notice, which is why we worked with YouGov to carry out detailed research of 10,000 Change.org users in the UK. We asked them how the internet is changing our politics, what platforms our representatives should use to connect with the electorate and who they will be voting for in the forthcoming election in May. The results - published here - reflect the trends we are seeing online and in the real world: that increasing numbers of people are deeply politically engaged but want a radically different Westminster, that social media is changing the relationship between electorate and politicians and that online petitions are an increasingly fast and effective vehicle for making change.

Many of our users really care about politics, but aren't satisfied with the way Westminster works. They're engaged (86% talk about politics regularly, and 59% have contacted their local MP) but they want a different style of politics to what's currently on offer. Three quarters said they wanted political parties led by people with real world experience, with only half of those planning to vote intending to cast their ballots for the main three political parties. As politicians in many of the Westminster parties steel themselves for possible leadership elections following a bad result in May, it's worth reflecting that a non-Westminster hinterland is seen as a hugely positive asset by Change.org users and general UK voters alike.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram mean that we now have unprecedented levels of access to the lives of our representatives - and most of those we spoke to agreed that social media has made it easier for their voices to be heard by politicians. But interestingly the quantity of communication has not necessarily improved the quality of the conversation, with only a quarter of those we surveyed reporting that social media has made politics better. This suggests that as platforms evolve and a new generation of politicians and electors find their voices there's room for significant change and improvement in our political discourse.

For young people - an audience that's traditionally been difficult for politicians to reach - engagement from MPs on social media is now ranked as nearly as important as face-to-face contact. 70% of 16 and 17 year olds we spoke to said it is crucial for MPs to be on social media but nine out of ten said face-to-face interaction is important too. Tomorrow's electors see little difference between their online and offline lives, and increasingly expect their MPs to be accessible in either space.

That convergence between the online and offline politics is also reflected in how are users think about power. Nearly three-quarters of them believe voting in a general election is an effective way to make change, compared to 69% who believe signing an online petition is an effective method. We see both of these as crucial tools, and as the general election approaches we hope that even more people in the UK will use sites like ours to show that ordinary citizens can campaign and win in their communities just as effectively as politicians.