Rajasthan an exception, Facebook popularity doesn’t ensure win
Do engagements with politicians on Facebook reflect on-ground sentiment? If we go by the results of the five states that went to polls in November and December, the answer is: not so much. At least, there is no strict correlation between leaders who grab attention on social media and those who get to rule the state.
A Hindustan Times analysis of Facebook data shows that Rajasthan was the only state where the leaders of the party that won also captured the most engagement on the social media platform. The story was the opposite in Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. In the other two, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram, Facebook activity was low.
This does not mean that Facebook, used monthly by around 270 million Indians in the age group of 18-65, won’t be an important medium for the 2019 general elections. The analysis shows that Facebook engagement is not a good predictor of victory.
Note that Facebook usage in the five states that went to the polls is below the national average; 36% of Indians of voting age use the platform monthly, according to data from the Facebook ads platform. Usage in Rajasthan is around 34%; 28% in Chhattisgarh and 25% in MP. In contrast, Delhi has 63% monthly active users, Haryana has 51%.
Analysis of Facebook interactions during the campaign is based on month-long data (12 November to 12 December) accessed from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analytics tool, which created public dashboards (like this one for Madhya Pradesh) to monitor the activity of political party pages and regional leaders of all five states. A caveat: the analysis excludes accounts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the BJP and Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
Two trends were common across all states. First, content posted from politician accounts gets more traction than official pages of political parties. According to CrowdTangle data, the cumulative interactions with accounts of political leaders is roughly two times more than the official party pages.
Second, BJP leaders, especially the three outgoing CMs of Raj, MP and Chattisgarh, have a much larger following (“likes”) on their Facebook pages.
How political activity on Facebook varies with states
Political activity on Facebook was highest in Rajasthan followed by Telangana and Madhya Pradesh. There were around 7 million interactions—including likes, comments and posts—with content posted by Rajasthan political leaders, compared to around 2.7 million in Telangana and 1.5 million in MP.
In Chattishgarh, the engagement was relatively lower and it was insignificant in Mizoram. So much so that Zoramthanga, the chief minister-elect of Mizoram, whose party Mizo National Front (MNF) decisively won the election, does not even have an official Facebook page.
Here is what happened in the three states.
Rajasthan: Congress won the state—and the Facebook war
Congress got 99 of the total 200 seats in Rajasthan. BJP got 73. Had Facebook been a predictor, the Congress should have won more decisively in the state polls.
Between them, Congress state president Sachin Pilot and senior leader Ashok Gehlot got 60% of the total engagement with state politicians accounts selected by CrowdTangle.
Hanuman Beniwal, who launched a new party called Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLTP) before these elections, stood third, bagging 25% of the interactions. His party won three seats.
Vasundhara Raje, the outgoing BJP chief minister, got little traction: just 14% share of the total interactions with political accounts. Raje’s low figures are more telling as she has the highest number of page likes among all Rajasthan politicians—over nine million, four times more than Sachin Pilot.
To be sure, Congress leaders were also more active: While Raje had only 280 posts in the last month, both Pilot and Gehlot posted more than 400 times. The BJP Rajasthan page, however, did better than the Congress, capturing 54% of the engagement from party pages.
Madhya Pradesh: BJP aggressively won the social media battle
Shivraj Singh Chouhan ran an active social media campaign—across platforms.
Chouhan was one of the most active politicians on ShareChat, a regional language social media platform with over 50 million monthly active users; he came close to Modi in the Twitterverse in terms of “mentions” by other BJP leaders, according to a recent analysis of Twitter data published in Mint. Shivraj’s Twitter presence as a topic of online conversation (within the BJP) came closest to Modi among all state-level leaders. Moreover, of the 50 most retweeted messages from MP politicians in the core phase of the campaign since September 2018, only four came from non-BJP sources, the Mint analysis led by Joyojeet Pal, a professor at the University of Michigan, revealed. “Chouhan clearly dominates in the ability to get wide attention to the right tweet,” the authors wrote.
The same is reflected in Facebook data: Chouhan alone captured 51% of the interactions coming from accounts of MP leaders. Add two more senior BJP leaders — Rakesh Singh and Kailash Vijayvargiya — and the figure goes to 81%: total dominance by the BJP on Facebook.
Compare that with four Congress leaders (Ajay Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Hemant Katare and Digvijaya Singh) who feature in the top 10: together, they got just 18% of the interactions.
Congress won a close fight in the state, winning 114 of the total 230 seats. BJP got 109. Had Facebook popularity reflected the ground reality, Chouhan would have easily ruled the state for the fourth time.
Telangana: Where Facebook action was completely off the mark
In Telangana, the Facebook sphere was in contrast with reality. With 88 of the 119 seats, incumbent chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, or KCR as he is better known, received a decisive mandate: his party Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) won a landslide.
But not on Facebook: KCR and his son KT Rama Rao together got just 20% of the total interactions with all politician accounts in the state.
Who dominated? Asaduddin Owaisi, the president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, which won just seven seats, got 34% of the total interactions. He was followed by Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party leader Chandrababu Naidu, with 20% of the interactions. His party won just two seats.