BitDepth 733 - June 01

How I called the 2010 national election.
The virtual town hall

Rodin’s Thinker, T&T election style. Art by James Hackett, from a concept by Hackett and Kayode James.

For a while, late on election night, TV6 was calling the election as a 30-11 victory for the People’s Partnership coalition. That was a scary and exhilarating time, because those were exactly the numbers I’d predicted in a blog post, ‘Absolute political punditry’ the Wednesday before. It was a piece of writing, I might note, that prompted at least commentator to ask what I’d been smoking.

This was not a result that had been predicted by any recognised political analysts, nor was it one that was anticipated by anyone interested in politics; the prevailing thinking was that it was going to be a close election.
I didn’t think so, and while I didn’t get seven of the actual winners right, the result ran close enough to my expectations to cause a small burst of fatigue among my Tweeps as the results began to stream in that night.

I took the invitation by Fake Patrick Manning to become his new seer in the spirit that his satirical posts are offered up in.
Of course, the post itself wasn’t offered up with absolute seriousness, how could I break down this country, one electoral constituency at a time, contemplating the people who were so enthusiastically offers their representation, without aiming a few calculated jabs intended to prick?

I spent a fair bit of time reviewing the election history of the constituencies, but that was all background. At the heart of the blog post was the explication of a theory I began formulating after listening to all the knowledgeable prognostication about the ebb and flow of the election and the sharply contrasting trend of the postings on Facebook and Twitter, which seemed to exist in a whole other world.

Far from the carefully stage-managed proceedings of the hustings, where no political party worth its salt will leave the gathering of an audience to chance and local interest; there was a very definite swing toward the People’s Partnership in the online medium that both major parties had chosen to connect with the public.

With their formal websites serving only as stale noticeboards, the PNM and UNC-CoP effectively abandoned the free web for the straitjacketed formalities of Facebook, which turned out to be a fundamental change in the capacity to discuss election issues.
On Facebook, the major parties were not in control, they were not the authorities. They were forced to play by the rules of the social media website, and the people they hoped to reach were fluent in the processes they were struggling to master.

It’s no surprise to note, then, that not only the competing parties, but media houses creating pages on Facebook would soon find their attempts to control and direct the flow of information subverted and consumed by an avalanche of participation.
More than a dozen major Facebook pages were created expressly for this election, many of them advocacy pages created to advance a particular position to voters, but all were soon swamped by users, keen to post and comment.

It was a dramatic illustration of digital literacy bringing power to the people and intelligent, articulate contributors were overwhelmingly in support of the coalition party, by, unsurprisingly, a factor of roughly five to one.
The young people who were getting a gentle, appreciative pat on the head on the campaign trail were, by turns, snarling and wooing their way through Facebook, performing an advocacy service without precedent or analogue in the meat world.

With older voters stuck in their visions of party solidarity, a startling shift in thinking and evaluation began to form and grow on these Facebook pages, completely out of the control of official political handlers. Writing the punditry post, I wanted to put myself in their shoes, to see the candidates the way they would when they went out to change voting patterns.

This wasn’t the only factor in a closely fought election that offered a stunning result, but it was one that demands closer attention and analysis if the 2010 election is to ever be fully understood.

Fun election figures
Voter turnout increased in 2010 by 3.24 percent over 2007, a total of 69,094 voters.
The coalition won 432,026 collective votes to the PNM’s 299,813.

Talking politics
Patrick's Plan
The Morning Edition after
Absolute Political Punditry
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