The Leaders’ Debate – an internet game?

Analysis of the Leaders’ Debate is not hard to come by this morning – it dominates most of the newspapers and the internet has been buzzing all night trying to decide who won and by what measure they did. For students, it offers some predictable examples, such as the growth of presidentialism with a focus on party leaders and evidence of party policies (compared to usual party alignment/dealignment). You should keep abreast of all of these analyses, although consensus seems to be that nothing unpredictable occurred at the debate.

More interesting than all of this however, is the role of the internet. Politics students frequently cite the growth of the internet as a factor in elections or pressure group movements but with little concrete evidence to support it – the Leaders’ Debate gave us just that. The debates sparked a Twitter storm with 1.2 million tweets (and counting) sent and many of the political commentators using these tweets to judge the success or failure of the leaders. The Telegraph has an excellent live feed running throughout the night showing how Twitter felt the leaders were doing (link above):

Telegraph Analysis

More importantly, however, was the effect of this on voter registration. During the Debate, the government website offering online registration saw a massive spike in usage. The figures throughout the day yesterday ranged from 0-1000 every two minutes. Throughout the Leaders’ Debate, this peaked at over 10,000 every two minutes. The graphs below are taken from the Voter Registration website; the peak in the Live Service Usage chart was the time of the Leaders’ Debates, as is the second spike in the Applications Breakdown graph.This is useful as evidence for the importance both of the Leaders’ Debates and the growth of the internet.

Even more crucially, for students, a majority of these users were aged under 35 (see the Applications by Age Group graph), the traditionally apathetic age group. In this sense, not only could the Leaders’ Debate, arguably, have enlivened the population politically, it has also helped to serve democracy by encouraging voter registration. It is worth noting that in 2010, while the 65% turnout is well known, less well known is that the electoral registers were only 85-87% complete; taking this into account the turnout of people who actually had the right to vote is considerably closer to 53%! This spike in voter registration is particularly crucial amid concerns over the lack of people registered to vote for the coming election, especially in the 18-24 age group.

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You must be careful not to see this as a ‘silver bullet’ – this means you should avoid the suggestion that the Leaders’ Debate has solved all voter registration problems and ‘proves’ the importance of the internet/Twitter; neither of these are true. However, it does give compelling evidence as well as providing a wealth of evidence that could be used in an exam to support an argument along these lines.