Social media did not heavily influence the BJP’s recent win as the ruling party’s social media advantage over the Congress declined in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, a study by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) shows.
The BJP’s vote share lead over the Congress has reduced among social media users and grown among non-users since 2014, the study shows. The Congress’ performance was worse among newspaper readers than social media users, suggesting that the momentum behind the 2019 results was not as much in the social media domain as previously thought.
“I think this study will surprise many because this is not a sample of urban voters. This is a national sample,” CSDS director Sanjay Kumar said at the report’s launch on Tuesday. A total of 24,236 voters were interviewed in 211 parliamentary constituencies.
Compared to 2014, the BJP made gains among those who were not on Facebook (from 30 per cent in 2014 to 36 per cent in 2019) and losses among the daily users. Inversely, the Congress gained among heavy Facebook users (from 16 per cent in 2014 to 20 per cent in 2019) and lost among non-users.
The study found that the lowest social media penetration was where the BJP made the most surprising gains —- eastern states —- and the highest social media penetration was where BJP has yet to spread significantly —- southern states.
On the other hand, the NDA’s success did slightly correlate with social media use among three groups —- upper caste voters (65 per cent for heavy users compared to 57 per cent for non-users), Muslims (15 per cent to 9 per cent) and Scheduled Tribes (57 per cent to 44 per cent). Social media usage of Muslims ranks second only to upper-caste Hindus, surpassing that of OBCs.
On the other hand, the UPA’s wins correlated with decreasing social media usage in groups such as Muslims (39 per cent of heavy users compared to 45 per cent of non-users) and Scheduled Tribes (26 per cent to 38 per cent). Among Dalits, greater social media exposure corresponded to a narrower gap between the NDA and UPA. Among the college-educated, social media usage favoured the UPA more than NDA.
While the BJP may have had a greater support among social media users than non-users, its vote share among non-users was comparable to their overall vote share. For heavy social media users, the BJP vote share was roughly 43 per cent while the unexposed were at 36 per cent, which “perhaps indicates that it may have won the election even if we take social media out of the equation”, the study claims. The BJP’s overall vote share in the elections was 37.4 per cent.
The Congress performed similarly well among social media users at 21 per cent versus 19 per cent for non-users. Its overall vote share was also 19 per cent.
The BJP preference is most with newspaper readers at 41 per cent. Those who mainly get their political news from television (49 per cent of respondents) voted for BJP at the same rate (37 per cent) as those whose main source is social media (3 per cent of respondents).
If there is any advantage to be seen, it is specific to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, where increasing usage correlated with much higher support for the ruling party, unlike Twitter and YouTube. For the Congress, no platform usage correlated with their support other than Twitter, where increased usage led to less vote share.
Another BJP advantage was among social media users who express their political views daily, half of whom voted for the NDA and a quarter voted for UPA. Regardless of political affiliation, only one-fourth of users express their political views online daily or sometimes, while over half said they never do.
The Congress’ ‘Chowkidar chor hai’ performed slightly better than BJP’s ‘Main bhi chowkidar’, but the NYAY scheme was known only by half of non-social media users and a little over three-fourths of heavy social media users. Three-quarters of social media users believe India belongs to all religions equally, while one-sixth believe India belongs only to Hindus.
Social media usage correlated with more opinionated voters. Heavy users were more likely to believe extreme views on either side about Muslims, both that Muslims are highly nationalist and that they are not nationalist at all. Regular users were more likely to particularly dislike a party. A quarter of respondents had no trust in social media.
In addition, social media remains a distant third behind television and newspapers, with only 3 per cent choosing social media as their main political news source. Even among social media users, the medium was a main source for only 6 per cent.