by Neil Smart Costantino

It comes as no secret that the general trend across Europe shows a decline in Electoral turnout. A lot of things have played a role in this, and the implications it may have on the electoral result may be devastating. Far-right parties have shot to prominence mainly for this reason – as the voter turnout goes down, the number of people voting for these parties has become more and more apparent. Local elections are a more significant problem. The real trick is the way that voters are engaged, but the question is how and where.

The rise of Far-right parties does not come as a coincidence. These are the consequential winners from the saying “there is never an empty seat in politics”. This arises from the fact that whenever people do not go out to vote, this results in the ‘better’ candidates not getting the necessary votes to get them where they should be. Also, there is the case of not having faith in the political system. Over the years we have seen an increase in the idea, especially amongst youths, that politics is dirty. Similarly, this belief will push off individuals who may have the necessary ability to serve their position well. Thus, those smaller parties which may have ideologies that put the country at risk may end up getting elected at the expense of someone who has the capabilities to do a good job. A solution needs to be found, and fast.

Engaging local electors is getting harder, especially when one considers how rapidly our lifestyles are changing. The power of social media today has trumped, no pun intended, any other form of engagement or marketing. The rate at which portals such as Facebook and Twitter, now even Instagram, have been growing is almost absurd. The idea behind them, in reality, is to bring people closer together from all corners of the world, which at face value is a very genuine idea. However, politics can be said to have ‘lost’ as much as it has ‘gained’ from this rapid growth. The reality is that few understand the power of influence that they possess when tweeting or writing a post on Facebook. It is much easier to have a negative impact on a post, rather than a positive one, subjectively speaking. Nonetheless, we have to start looking beyond Social Media to engage people in local elections.

If one had to take a closer look at the trends of voting in elections – it has significantly gone down after the developments made recently in Social Media. In my opinion, this is no coincidence. Politicians are right to invest heavily in their social media strategies to attract their constituencies, especially but not only, the younger voters. However, it is very wrong of them to base their whole campaign around social media. As our lives become more and more digitalised, and the Internet contributing to the world becoming a Global Village, we have seen a sharp decrease in human contact. When it comes to politics, this is one of the most critical factors that can make or break a politician. Establishing a relationship with your voters and understanding them personally will work wonders towards the future of any politician. This is almost more important when it comes to local elections. These elections are relatively different to national elections in the sense that when you are dealing with a country or locality, there is more of a sense of passion and dedication towards the hometown.

Consequently, a different approach needs to be taken. There is no better way to engage with local electors than, physically meeting them up and visiting their homes. Understandably there needs to be a sense of proportionality according to the size of the locality. However, speaking to people directly and individually will make them feel more valued than any other Tweet or Facebook Post could ever make them feel as such. This does not mean that Social Media is not invested in or neglected, but the focus must change in truth. When people are approached personally by the people who will be running to represent them, they are more likely to feel a sense of responsibility to vote for them. Thus, if any politicians are reading this article, I am firmly of the belief that personal contact is much more likely to be rewarding than any investment in social media.

Especially at a local level, building strong foundations with your electorate is paramount. This will help the politician even in cases whereby he goes onto greater scales of representation such as national elections. The relationships he would have built back home end up being a catalyst for his or her election. Ultimately, while Social Media is growing at a rapid rate, and so is the number of people using it, one has to keep in mind that there is no place like home. There is no place better to meet a person, discuss ideas and give the necessary assurances, then at his/her home. The idea that Social Media is the only significant marketplace for an election has to be redesigned.

26 February 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 71