For political parties in Indonesia, large social media following has little effect on electoral success

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Half of Indonesia’s 260 million population are connected to the internet. They spend on average nearly nine hours a day online. Joint Google-Temasek research has predicted that Indonesia will have 215 million internet users in 2020, making it the country with the fourth-largest number of internet users in the world.

In other countries, such as the US and the UK, political parties use social media and intensify their digital political marketing during elections.

How about Indonesia? Is there a correlation between parties that have large social media followings and seats in the parliament?

Popularity of political parties on social media

To answer these questions, we looked at how 16 political parties contesting the 2019 Indonesian election use the internet. We observed social media accounts listed by the parties with the General Elections Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum, or KPU) as their official accounts during the election campaign period. Our research observation period was 23 September 2018 to 4 December 2018.

We found that all parties, except for the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (Partai Keadilan dan Persatuan Indonesia, or PKPI), use social media. But parties’ social media use varies. The parties mostly use four platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Five parties do not have YouTube accounts.

On average, political parties in Indonesia have used Facebook for four years, Twitter for five years, and Instagram for two years. Twitter is the most established social media platform used by parties. Five parties have been using Twitter for more than six years.

Boxplot of the party age and the use of social media. Calculation by the authors, Author provided

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan, or PDI-P) has the oldest Facebook page among other parties. The PDI-P joined this social media platform in 2008.

The National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional, or PAN) Facebook page is eight years old. The Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera, or PKS) has had its Facebook page for seven years.

However, even though these three parties have had Facebook accounts the longest compared to other parties, PDI-P (around 1.5 million followers), PAN (187,000) and PKS (615,000) have fewer followers than the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, or Gerindra) with 3.6 million followers and the Indonesian Solidarity Party (Partai Solidaritas Indonesia, or PSI) with around 2.9 million followers.

Party age and online popularity. Authors, Author provided

We also found that a party’s age does not affect its popularity on social media. Gerindra, formed ten years ago, has become the most popular party on all social media platforms, except on YouTube.

Older parties such as the Party of Functional Groups (Partai Golongan Karya, or Golkar) and the United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan, or PPP) are behind in gaining online support.

Golkar listed four Twitter accounts as the party’s official social media accounts during the 2019 campaigning period: @2DPP-Golkar, @fraksigolkar, @GoJo2019, and @GolkarBalitbang. The @2DPP-Golkar account can not be found, @fraksigolkar has around 10,200 followers, @GoJo2019 has only around 200 followers, and @GolkarBalitbang has around 880 followers.

Similarly for the PPP, which has two Twitter accounts, its @DPP_PPP has around 38,100 followers, while its @sahabatgusrommy has only 1,140 followers. PDI-P, the winner of the 1999 and 2014 elections, also has fewer social media followers than younger parties.

Digital transition

It seems that political parties in Indonesia are still exploring the use of digital media to disseminate information.

Political party administrators have different priorities in their efforts to increase their popularity in the social media sphere. Some parties may think that being popular on Facebook or Twitter is not too important. They also may have yet to grasp the strategies needed to campaign in social media.

The Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat) is one of the parties that has a weak strategy. For its online campaign, Demokrat created completely new social media accounts, based on a new “code” “S14P” (read as “siap”, which means “ready”), derived from its order number in the 2019 election: 14. All of the party’s social media accounts that use “S14P” have very few followers.

Interestingly, this party also has had another official Twitter account since 2011 (@PDemokrat) with around 88,500 followers and 10,600 tweets.

We think the Demokrat decision to register entirely new social media accounts is not apt. It shows that the party elite does not carefully consider a strategy to attract voters via the internet.

This strategy turns out to be not unique to Demokrat. Other parties, such as the People’s Conscience Party (Partai Hati Nurani Rakyat, or Hanura), registered many new social media accounts ahead of the 2019 election rather than maintaining the more established and popular accounts.

Seats in the parliament

After monitoring the popularity of political parties on social media, we examined whether there is a relationship between a party’s popularity on social media and the number of seats in parliament it won in the 2014 election.

We use the corrplot package in RStudio software to visualise the correlation matrix between the number of each party’s seats and the age of its social media accounts.

Correlation matrix. Authors, Author provided

The above picture shows that the number of a party’s seats in the 2014 election has only a strong and positive relationship (0.67) with the age of the party’s Facebook account. The longer a party owns a Facebook account, the higher the likelihood that the party has more seats in the parliament.

In the matrix, A represents the age of parties social media account. For example, F_A represents Facebook account age, and T_A represents Twitter account age.

Likewise, F_L denotes the number of likes on Facebook. T_F and I_F represent followers on Twitter and Instagram respectively. Y_S means the number of subscribers on YouTube.

We found the party’s age has a weak and negative correlation with the party’s popularity on Facebook/F_L (-0.22) and YouTube/Y_S (-0.21). We conclude that older parties are less popular on Facebook and YouTube than the younger parties.

We also found that the party’s levels of popularity on various social media platforms have strong and positive correlations among them. The number of likes on Facebook is aligned with the number of Instagram followers/I_F (0.80), YouTube subscribers and Twitter followers, with a 0.75 score.

Our research concluded that the party’s popularity patterns on the internet vary depending on social media types. Facebook seemingly has a slower pace in gaining public interest or support compared to the other social media platforms.

Election prediction

As more people use the internet, parties and politicians have a big opportunity to use social media to strengthen their political profiles.

However, our research shows that, for now, the majority of political parties in Indonesia have not utilised the internet as their campaigning medium to gain public support. Also, popularity in cyberspace has not translated consistently to electoral success.

In other words, we find that, overall, social media in Indonesia have not been used significantly – whether by parties, politicians or voters – as a political activism vehicle.

Therefore, the hubbub on social media cannot be used as a benchmark for a party’s success in influencing issues and gaining votes in the election. Interactions on social media in Indonesia cannot yet be used to predict political results.

This article was originally published in Indonesian