On the campaign trail: Did social media make a difference in #elxnnw?

Julie Maclellan



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If Twitter were the real world, Jonathan Cote would be the mayor in a landslide.

That, if you'll recall, was my prediction in my final pre-election blog. (You can check it out here if you missed it.)

Well, it may not have qualified as a "landslide," but Cote's comfortable 2,500-vote margin over incumbent mayor Wayne Wright, combined with the fact that he led in every polling station in the city, certainly qualifies as impressive on all fronts.

Election watchers around the city have undoubtedly been weighing in since Saturday on the reasons why they think Cote pulled off such a decisive victory. Today's blog post is looking at just one aspect of that win: his social media presence.

My own question, as I spent five weeks watching candidates' social media campaigns, was whether those efforts online, on Facebook and on Twitter would affect the final outcome of the election.

Having now pondered my own pre-election posts in tandem with the results, I'm going to go with: Not really.

Yes, I was more than correct about the mayor's race: the candidate with by far the strongest social media presence did indeed win.

But let's face it, that same candidate also ran by far the largest and most visible campaign - the million steps he walked, the 5,000 doors he reportedly knocked on, the signs and literature everywhere, the non-stop calls to voters, not to mention endorsement from the New Westminster and District Labour Council, all combined to make the Cote campaign a success.

Sure, his online presence was undoubtedly part of it - and there's no denying that his campaign and his supporters were responsible for a lot of the Twitter-related chat about the election.

So, yes, we can safely say that his social media presence contributed in some small way to his overall success. But I don't think we can draw any sort of "He tweets, therefore he wins" conclusion from the victory.

Let's look a little further, though, just to see how the council and school board races reflected their social media counterparts.

If you'll recall, I named my "virtual council" - the six candidates I thought did the best job on social media - as Patrick Johnstone, Mike Folka, Mary Trentadue, David Brett, Tej Kainth and Jaimie McEvoy.

In the real world, three of those candidates did indeed get elected - incumbent McEvoy, alongside newcomers Johnstone and Trentadue.

The other three elected councillors were all incumbents: Chuck Puchmayr, Lorrie Williams and Bill Harper, the latter two of whom had minimal social media presence throughout the campaign.

Tellingly - and not surprisingly - it was the four incumbents who topped the polls: Puchmayr, Williams, McEvoy and Harper, in order.

Johnstone came in fifth and Trentadue sixth (contrary to the predictions of the Twitterati, which had rallied firmly behind the idea that Johnstone would top the polls).

There's no question Johnstone and Trentadue - particularly Johnstone - had a huge social media presence. And, to some degree, it probably helped them - the fact is, if you're NOT an incumbent, you have to overcome the name recognition gap to make it to council. And social media helped both the political newcomers to get their names and faces out there to people who wouldn't otherwise have known them.

But, again, I'd have to say that the social media aspect of their campaigns was but one tiny part of it - a big volunteer force, a heckuva lot of door knocking, and, yes, endorsement from the labour council were once again bigger factors in the victories than their prowess at Twitter and Facebook.

For further proof of that, I only have to look at the other three social media "winners" of the night - although Kainth came through with a strong showing (she wound up in eighth, with 5,111 votes - not that far off Trentadue's 5,517), the other two social media stars, Brett and Folka, were not factors in the real-world race.

Brett was in 10th spot with 3,383 votes, and Folka brought in 1,637 votes (putting him 15th among the 21 candidates). Folka, in particular, seemed very popular with the social media crowd in advance of the night - but that didn't carry over into the real world.

And, conversely, the non-incumbent, non-labour-endorsed candidate with the best showing of the night, Catherine Cartwright (who lodged 5,165 votes to end up in seventh) had relatively little social media presence.

Safe to say, all things considered, that social media wasn't a difference-maker on the council front.

So, what about school board?

My "virtual board" included Kelly Slade-Kerr, MaryAnn Mortensen, Jeremy Perry, Cort Caldwell, Michael Ewen, Casey Cook and Mark Gifford.

The real school board did indeed include five of those souls: Slade-Kerr (who led the pack with a whopping 8,128 votes), Mortensen, Gifford, Cook and Ewen.

They were joined by Jonina Campbell (a solid, if not spectacular, social media user throughout the campaign) and James Janzen, whose social media presence was relatively minimal.

Did social media affect the outcome?

Probably not. It likely helped the newcomer Perry to raise his profile - and, yes, Perry wound up the night in eighth spot, having spent much of the night looking like he had a legitimate shot at the seventh seat on school board.

But Caldwell, who had a great social media presence, was another non-factor in the campaign, with 2,419 votes putting him 12th of 13 candidates.

Once again, the incumbents' success showed the value of name recognition, and their social media presence or lack thereof appeared to have little to do with their standing.

The great exception, of course, was Slade-Kerr - who, though new to the race, powered ahead of even the popular school board chair, Campbell, in the polls.

Two endorsements - from the labour council and from the Parents for Public Education New Westminster (P4PE) group - and another hugely hard-working campaign likely had more to do with that victory than the fact that she was good at Facebook and Twitter.

All that having been said, though, I don't discount the impact of social media in this campaign.

Although it didn't affect the outcome in any broad way, I think that social media did do a number of things.

It got conversation going - both Twitter and Facebook served as platforms for the candidates to engage voters, and each other, in debates and discussions that otherwise might not have happened.

It got a group of voters engaged in politics, and with each other, in new ways - I'm thinking of the "Twitter parties" that broke out during the mayors' debate and all-candidates meeting live-streamed by @NewWestDotTV, for instance; those of us who took part in them certainly had a chance to connect with other voters in ways we wouldn't otherwise have been able to. (The newly elected council had better watch out, as there is now Twitter chat about live-tweeting council meetings.)

It added some extra entertainment - the debates, the chats, the photos and the light-hearted moments (can you say "shoefie"?) added a little fun to the proceedings and reminded us politics doesn't have to be dry and boring.

It introduced some new personalities to the city - I'm thinking of young, engaged types such as Jeremy Perry, Tej Kainth and Mike Folka, who may not have won the election but who certainly established themselves as people to watch in the future.

And, at an individual level, I've no doubt that Facebook and Twitter did have some impact on the personal choices of some social media users.

In fact, I can personally say that some candidates who might otherwise not have been on my radar screen did end up on my ballot - not strictly because I liked the way they used social media, but because their social media presence was interesting enough to make me look more closely at who they were and what they stood for.

I'll leave the last words on this subject to a few of the #elxnnw watchers who tweeted back to me when I asked on Twitter: "My personal #elxnnw question of the night: Did social media factor in to the results at all?"

Linda M. Tobias @limatob  probably not on the macro level, but personally it did help me shape my votes.

Ed Sadowski @EdjoSadowski  No. Being endorsed by #NWDLC did.

Brad Cavanagh @CanSpice  Twitter is kingmakers. :-)

And the final verdict to Barb Adamski @BarbAdamski: my answer? No, but it sure made it fun.


So whaddya say, New West? Did social media influence your votes? Did it affect the outcome of the campaign? What impact did it have, for better or for worse? After all is said and done, did it - and does it - matter?

Feel free to weigh in here, or find me on Twitter, @juliemaclellan, or Facebook, www.facebook.com/JulieLMacLellan.

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