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Drumming up support: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn canvasses the youth vote, October 2019. Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

UK election 2019: Labour is winning the battle on Instagram

One of the biggest changes for political campaign digital strategists between the 2017 and 2019 general elections has been the decline in the usefulness of Facebook in connecting with younger voters.

Those aged under 24 are drifting away to other platforms, notably Instagram and Snapchat. Both the Conservatives and Labour have significantly increased their activity on both these platforms during this election campaign. But it is Instagram – with its large user base of British voters aged under 40 – that has become the key tool for engaging younger voters.

Jeremy Corbyn is winning the battle to engage social media users on Instagram, according to a new analysis by Cardiff University. Since the start of the campaign, he has increased the number of people following his account by more than a third. The Labour Party’s account has also seen a large increase in the number of followers, up by more than 50%.

Table 1: Change in Instagram followers 29/10/2019 to 02/12/2019. Matt Walsh, Cardiff University, Author provided (no reuse)

The dramatic increase in followers is important for several reasons. First, Instagram appeals to a younger demographic than either Facebook or Twitter. There are around 23,900,000 UK users of Instagram, and 74% of them are aged between 18 and 44. That’s a key demographic that Labour needs to energise and encourage to vote. That is because in the 2017 general election, voters younger than 47 were more likely to vote Labour than Conservative.

The increase is also important because it echoes a similar rise in social media followers that Corbyn saw in the 2017 campaign. Then, he was able to increase the number of followers of his Facebook account by more than a third, while the Labour party increased its followers by more than 75%.

Finding new followers

Part of Labour’s digital strategy is to encourage people to back it who have not traditionally voted for the party. On Instagram, it has repeatedly run posts encouraging young people to register to vote, including this one featuring the TV presenter, Billie JD Porter.

The party leadership will be encouraged by news that in the run up to closure of voter registration, more than 3.1m people registered – around two-thirds of them aged under 35. That doesn’t mean that these are all first-time voters – many will already be registered and merely changing their details, but this is a big spike compared to 2017.

The desire to motivate Millennial and older Gen-Z voters explains the party’s concerted campaign to target them. An analysis of activity on both parties’ and leaders’ Instagram accounts, demonstrates that Labour is posting more than its rivals.

All parties are playing catch-up when it comes to Instagram. Matt Walsh, Cardiff University, Author provided (no reuse)

Follow the leader

This pattern of activity is accentuated in an analysis of the party leaders’ accounts. Corbyn’s account is by far the most prolific, as well as having the largest digital reach. Even Boris Johnson’s account is barely competitive.

Jeremy Corbyn is by far the most prolific poster on Instagram. Matt Walsh, Cardiff University, Author provided (no reuse)

Corbyn’s account is posting a mix of content: from short statements screen-grabbed from Twitter to political memes and real-life case studies of the impact of austerity on ordinary people. True to the cliché of Instagram users’ interests, there are also animal pictures.

Labour is not only producing more content than its rivals, it is also encouraging higher levels of engagement. It is producing by far the most-watched videos on Instagram, leaving its rivals struggling to reach an audience.

Labour has as many viewers as all the other parties put together. Matt Walsh, Cardiff University, Author provided (no reuse)

Almost all this engagement is coming from Corbyn’s account. It has delivered the vast bulk of Labour’s video views, 3,435,782 compared to just 537,926 from the party’s official account. Videos that are cutting through with social media users are those that emphasise either Corbyn’s down-to-earth personality, or that use emotional responses to drive engagement, such as this video message about her experience of the NHS made by a young woman with cancer.

Engaging issues

The other issues that appear to being well-received by Instagram’s audience are those that engage with issues such as the environment or Brexit. That’s slightly surprising given Labour’s reluctance to engage digitally on Brexit as an issue, except where the party has felt it necessary to try and rebut Conservative claims of indecisiveness over the issue.

Videos posted by Corbyn’s account dominate the top ten most-watched clips on Instagram. Johnson has struggled to get views anywhere near the scale being recorded by Corbyn, only just making it into the top ten with a short video of him laying bricks at a new housing development in Bedfordshire.

But given the audience profile of Instagram, Johnson’s digital strategists are clearly not prioritising it to the same degree that they are Twitter and Facebook.

Table 2: Top ten most-watched clips on Instagram (29/11/2019 - 02/12/2019). Matt Walsh, Cardiff University, Author provided (no reuse)

With a little more than a week to go until election day, the Labour party is trying to close the gap in the polls with the Conservatives by motivating every voter it can. Its approach to Instagram shows it can reach a younger demographic and beat the Conservatives in engagement. This may yet play an important role in the final result.

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