Pol parties turn to WhatsApp, influencers as poll campaign begins


New Delhi, Mar 17 : As the country gears up for the world's biggest electoral exercise, messaging platforms like WhatsApp and social media influencers have emerged as the go to mediums for political parties to influence voter psychology, ad gurus and political analysts say.
In the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, political parties are extensively using social media to propagate their achievements and seek support from voters.
The BJP is trying to engage with the voters by sending them a personalised 'Letter from the Prime Minister' on WhatsApp—which has over 500 million active users monthly in India—highlighting the achievements of the Narendra Modi Government and seeking feedbacks from voters.
The party launched the website 'My First Vote For Modi,' which allows visitors to pledge to vote for Modi and submit a video stating the reason behind their choice. The website also hosts several short videos highlighting the development work done under the NDA Government.
On the other hand, the Congress runs a Rahul Gandhi WhatsApp group in which the leader is said to interact with people and respond to their queries.
The circulation of WhatsApp information is monitored at the district level to ensure it reaches the masses and corrects the party's voter base.
"Whichever political party has higher WhatsApp groups under its banner can communicate faster and better with the voters. It helps them to highlight their achievements instantly with a large user base and influence the voters by drawing parallels with the opposition," Amitabh Tiwari, an election analyst and commentator, said.
According to Tiwari, Facebook, once the most preferred platform for social media campaigning, has seen a downslide due to many restrictions on advertisements on political pages.
Facebook boasts 366.9 million users according to Statistica, a data-gathering and visualisation platform.
"Parties opt for social media platforms which help them connect with the masses instantly without much restrictions and have a large user base. There are many other platforms like Instagram or Twitter, which cater to a specific audience and have different formats," he said.
According to the data from the Election Commission, the Bharatiya Janata Party spent a total of Rs 325 crore for media advertisement (print and electronic, bulk SMS, cable website, TV channel, etc) during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, while Congress incurred an expenditure of Rs 356 crore.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, perspective towards social media as a tool of information significantly changed, Ankit Lal, founder of Politique Advisor and former IT Cell head of Aam Aadmi Party, said.
"Many political parties now adopt a digital-first strategy for their poll campaigns to connect with the voters who heavily depend on social media to get information. Social media influencers have become another important medium through which parties try to influence the floating audience of those who do not vote but engage in consuming the narratives," he said.
Social Media Influencers Take The Lead in the last few months, several political leaders have appeared on YouTube channels of popular social media influencers to connect with the younger audience.
BJP leaders like S Jaishankar, Smriti Irani, Piyush Goyal, and Rajeev Chandrasekhar have given interviews to podcaster Ranveer Allahabadia, who has over 7 million followers on YouTube.
In the 2014 general election, BJP had the first mover's advantage in utilising social media for election campaigning as many leaders were not there on these platforms, Tiwari said.
"Because others (Opposition) didn't realise the importance of social media for campaigning then, the ruling party was able to create more impact," he said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi joined X in 2015 (when it was still Twitter) and has 25.1 million followers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who joined X in 2009, is followed by 96.3 million people.
Explaining the importance of social media campaigning on poll results, Lal said, "With the internet penetration of 40 per cent, in an assembly constituency of an average of two lakh people, it is possible to influence 75,000 to 80,000 people through digital mediums. Even a difference of 5,000 votes is a good win-loss margin in any assembly election." Other analysts, however, have their doubts about the power of social media to turn people into voters.
It requires more analysis and research, they say.
Chambi Puranik, Professor of Political Science and a poll analyst, said election campaigns on social media may not influence the opinions of traditional voters or party supporters who have their loyalties fixed.
He said loyalty factors such as caste and local affiliation weigh far more for traditional voters as the elections come closer. "The popularity, credibility and charisma of the party face contesting in the election also swing the voters."
Meanwhile, highlighting the need to regulate social media campaigning by parties, former Chief Election Commissioner of India SY Quraishi said that the EC should speak to tech companies to strengthen their mechanism to take down reported posts that violate the rules of the poll body.
Tiwari observed that the money spent by parties for campaigns does not necessarily impact who wins or loses.
Various factors contribute here, including the party's face, public image, and issues raised by the party, among others, he said.
On Thursday, the Election Commission published data on electoral bonds bought between April 2019 and February 2024.
According to the data, the BJP received the highest contributions, Rs 6,566 crore or 54.77 per cent, through the bonds, followed by the Congress, which received Rs 1,123 crore or 9.37 per cent of the total.  PTI