THE BLOG

Time Has Run Out in the Battle to Swing Britain's 'Digital Election'

30/04/2015 17:32 BST | Updated 30/06/2015 10:59 BST

This year's general election campaign was billed as a moment that could potentially redefine the relationship between the political parties and the mainstream media - the UK's first truly digital and social-media-led general election. New research on US voter behaviour produced by Rocket Fuel indicates that digital advertising is indeed playing a bigger role than ever on the outcomes of elections and has emerged as a key way to create awareness and influence voters for political campaigns. However, with one week to go until the UK goes to the polls and the outcome of the election appearing to be too close to call, the research also indicates that the optimal time for political parties to influence floating voters is now coming to an end.

Since the 2010 election, digital has moved up the political agenda in the UK as British political parties have started to take digital marketing more seriously. The Labour Party signed up Obama election winners Blue State Digital, David Cameron took to the world of Twitter, the Liberal Democrats used geotargeting on their website and Richard Desmond's £1m donation to UKIP was reportedly earmarked for boosting the party's online presence. The influence of online advertising, strategic online posters, celebrity selfies on social media, and even the somewhat surprising emergence of #Milifandom should perhaps not be dismissed. The research has found that in the US, 36% of floating voters cast their ballot as a result of seeing an online advertisement.

The research report, "Driving Swing State Voter Activity Through Advertising", which studied 2,832 registered voters in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, demonstrated that voters had high ad recall, and were behaviourally influenced by the timing and messaging of digital political marketing.

It suggests that half of key floating voters' minds can be swayed with effectively targeted and personally persuasive online advertising up to two weeks before voting day. Effective online campaigns with targeted persuasive messages served up to the correct audience will still influence 19% of undecided voters up to 7 days before polling day. Yet once there are less than seven days to go it is too late for a party to do anything meaningful to influence a still undecided voter and the effectiveness of online advertising is dramatically reduced. With one week to go, have parties done enough?

With 194 marginal seats in the UK, needing only a 5% change in behaviour for them to switch allegiance, the party that has utilised effective online marketing campaigns targeted at voters in these constituencies could have helped provide a deciding factor in these last couple of weeks of the campaign.

Digital advertising is playing a bigger role than ever on the outcomes of elections and has emerged as a key way to create awareness and influence voters for political campaigns. Knowing when voters are most susceptible to persuasive messaging allows political parties to better target swing voters sitting on the fence. Traditionally, many campaigns spend a lot of money in the last few days before decision day. However, this research shows that political parties seeking to persuade voters to take a particular course of action should begin spending their media budgets well in advance of election day, and focus on GOTV initiatives within the final four weeks of an election campaign. Indeed, the lessons learned from the general election campaign may well see a huge shift in how political parties deliver their messages in future.