KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 ― Barisan Nasional (BN) Youth will focus on election campaigning online, targeting young and new voters on social media and messaging platforms, its leaders said.
Sites like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and popular online forums give the ruling coalition the opportunity to reach a demographic that traditionally avoids conventional political programmes, although the latter will still make a crucial component of its campaign in the rural areas, the movement’s leaders told Malay Mail.
This will likely be the first election where the internet will become the central battlefront in both urban and rural constituencies, where traditional campaigning methods like door-to-door or market visits, leafleting and government programmes were previously favoured.
“In this era of digitalisation, internet media outlets are paramount and an imperative tool in engaging to the public primarily youth/first time voters,” BN Youth secretary Ibdil Ishak told Malay Mail when asked if the coalition deems the internet to be the main campaign arena now.
“Internet outlets has been the epicentre of content management (and) is a paramount and imperative tool in engaging the public, primarily with youth/ first time voters,” he added.
About two-thirds of information trafficking is disseminated via social media outlets, according to the BN and Umno Youth secretary, which makes applications like WhatsApp and social media websites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and online forums the best way to reach out to the masses.
With data analytics, political parties not only have unprecedented access to new voters who conventionally have little interest in traditional political programmes, but also key information that allows them to formulate the right campaign messages and avoid diving into issues that could potentially alienate them.
A survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center released in September last year showed Malaysian youths had a general distrust and a lack of interest towards politicians from both sides of the divide. Most also expressed a sense of helplessness.
Seven out of 10 young Malaysians polled said they found politicians untrustworthy and blamed them for most of the country’s problems. More than half believe politicians genuinely care little about the people.
These reasons were the primary factor behind the low number of low of youth registered as voters in Peninsular Malaysia: up to 70 per cent of those polled said they were apolitical, a same number for those who felt they were powerless in influencing policies.
Whether or not data analytics and targeted messaging can help political parties change this perception is still uncertain, but Ibdil said big data has given BN Youth some insight about youth sentiment today, and that it could help the coalition tailor its campaign better.
“The opportunity is massive for BN Youth to utilise big data in establishing a more strategic and precise election campaign,” he said.
“Big data will be utilised on the social demographic, political inclination and imperatively on the public acceptance of governmental policies and transformation activities”.
Building on a solid foundation, BN Youth’s campaign will focus on issues they have long championed and have been quite effective at, given the advantage it has as the incumbent government.
Ibdil said focus will be given to providing solutions to key issues like costs of living, affordable housing, job employment, social development and technology innovation.
BN Youth is also likely to tout the National Transformation 2050 (TN50), which Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has been heavily involved in since its inception, as proof of the wing’s success in genuinely incorporating youth input in policy-making, something the past administration has failed at.
“BN Youth under the stewardship of YB Khairy Jamaluddin has undertook a massive bottom up engagement in realising the notion of the country towards TN50,” Ibdil told Malay Mail.
“What people lack to comprehend is that before any execution, a strategic blueprint to cultivate articulation and cognitive thinking (is needed to) broaden the horizons of Malaysian youth.
“This is further complemented with the social development agenda which is essential in the sustainability and retention of Malaysian youth leaders.”
BN has made great strides to promote supposed government successes online since Election 2013. Last year, Opposition parties told Malay Mail they expected a tougher challenge in the upcoming general election in light of the coalition’s remarkable progress in growing its influence on social media since.
Youth as information agents
BN Youth is also aiming to turn youths into political influencers that will help sway their grandparents and uncles to vote in favour of the ruling coalition in the rural constituencies, MIC Youth chief Datuk Sivarraajh Chandran told Malay Mail.
While traditional campaign methods will likely be emphasised in these locations since majority of its electorate tend to be older voters, social media will still have a major role to play.
“If you look at the 2013 voting trend, the older people's votes were actually decided and influenced by young people ― from their sons, grandsons at the universities,” Sivarraajh explained.
“So all the age groups are exposed to social media one way or the other.”
In the 2013 election, Facebook indirectly influenced how older voters in the these constituencies voted because they were mostly persuaded by their younger family members who primarily relied on the social media site for information, the MIC leader said.
There are 1.9 million eligible Indian voters today, according to the recent electoral roll, and 300,000 of them are concentrated in Selangor, a highly industrialised state with one of the highest internet penetration rates.
Up to 70 per cent of those in Selangor are active on social media, Sivarraajh noted.
“We can say that almost 70 per cent of them are on social media. They can be accessed and reached through social media, so that's why for MIC, I have stressed that our social media platform is very crucial, very important,” he said.
His counterpart in MCA, Senator Datuk Chong Sin Woon, echoed the view.
“No doubt we have been enhancing our social media campaign...we don’t have the data but majority of Malaysian are netizens, which means, yes, social media has been influential even to older people,” he told Malay Mail.
Young voters will have unprecedented influence in GE14, which must be called by August this year. Voters aged between 21 and 39 form close to half of the 14.62 million registered voters, according to the Election Commission, and up to 90 per cent of them are active on social media
Social media, over-the-top (OTT) messaging and informal forums are primary information sources for internet users who had an average of four social media accounts, a Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission survey found.