Will #IamLinda move votes away from Christy Clark?

Will #IamLinda move votes away from Christy Clark?

By Shachi Kurl, Executive Director

May 5, 2017 – It’s said that the half-life of a tweet is somewhere between a few minutes and a few hours. By that measure, #IamLinda made it well past its life expectancy. The Twitter hashtag caused a social media storm. It was driven by what is now a well-chronicled awkward moment on the campaign trail between BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark and a voter who said she’d never choose Ms. Clark.

For that, whether they like it or not, the folks running the BC Liberal campaign must tip their hats to the rapid response of their war-room counterparts over at NDP headquarters who quickly marshalled their own social media influencers to distract the incumbent party for days.

Of course, #IamLinda might have become #IwasLinda more quickly had Ms. Clark and her campaign directors not compounded the situation with their own unforced error, accusing the aforementioned #Linda – one Linda Higgins, a retired social-worker assistant – of being an NDP plant sent to embarrass the candidate.

But now that the BC Liberals have stated they “stand corrected” on this front, we can consign #IamLinda to the annals of other political hashtags that may or may not have had an impact on campaigns. Think: #NastyWoman or #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain.

And that is the real question: Beyond the retweets and the likes and all those people weighing in with their own reasons why they won’t vote to re-elect the BC Liberals, will this saga actually sway a significant number of votes?

So far, this has been a tightly scripted, relatively gaffe-free campaign. No candidates tossed out over embarrassing revelations, no cringe-worthy food-eating, football-fumbling, silly-hat-wearing photo ops, no major missteps by party leaders, nor any major breakthrough moments.

In the absence of the usual plot twists and turns that drive campaign coverage, that one interaction between politician and plebe provided a relatable, unexpected and tantalizing tableau on which media and their consumers could feed.

And consider the distribution of said moment: Our Angus Reid Institute research indicates 17 per cent of Canadians are on Twitter (including about one in five British Columbians), that figure rising to three in 10 among 18- to 34-year-olds.

Roughly seven in 10 Canadians use Facebook (the same proportion holds for B.C. residents), increasing to four in five amongst 18- to 34-year-olds. So, that’s a lot of amplification and imprints, and by extension, real potential to heavily influence a message.

But who is getting the message? Is it people whose minds are already made up? Or those who still, after a long unofficial campaign followed by the real deal, remain undecided, and are still likely to vote? The Pew Research Center’s work on the echo-chamber environment of social media platforms would suggest the former. Pew outlines the way social media users may be more likely to follow and friend those who share their political views, while unfriending those that don’t.

And that is key. Chances are, rather than move voters from one side to another, the tweets associated with #IamLinda are more likely to remind non-Clark voters why they’re not voting for her. In this critical second half of the race, as campaigns shift their focus from identifying new voters to persuading the ones they have to physically show up at polling stations, this social media storm might have had the effect of a rallying cry, stiffening the resolve of voters already leaning away from the BC Liberals, perhaps towards the NDP. This can be very helpful in a tight race.

But this is a campaign that has been largely focused on the two main parties speaking to their own established camps. If the electorate hasn’t yet been swayed by scandals such as the government’s wrongful firing of Health Ministry employees that resulted in one man killing himself or by the very distinct economic platforms the two main parties have laid out, a seven-second caught-on-camera encounter isn’t likely to change vote dynamics much.

Instead, those already in the anti-Clark column will nod their heads and see it as confirmation that she’s out of touch. Those solidly pro-Clark will shrug it off as a moment that could have been handled differently, but ultimately nothing more than tempest in a Twitterpot.

Meantime, the leaders, the parties and the campaign directors are getting on with the job at hand, not only trying to swing, but also lock in every last vote they can find.