July 11, 2023
PETALING JAYA – About one-third of the 9.77 million voters in the six state elections are going to make their decisions at the eleventh hour based on what they see on social media, say experts.
Although political parties have already started holding on-the-ground rallies and launching their machinery in each of the six states, political analysts and communications experts say the role of social media will be just as critical in the state polls as it was in the 15th General Election (GE15).
“The situation we saw in GE15 is being repeated with voters below 29, especially first-time voters who won’t make their choices early and have no loyalty to any party,” said Associate Prof Dr Mohd Yusri Ibrahim, head of research at polling firm Ilham Centre.
This cohort of voters will likely wait until the last moments before going to social media to decide on their choice, he said.
“So, whichever party or candidate can dominate social media will be able to persuade and influence the minds of these young voters,” said Mohd Yusri, who lectures on policy studies at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT).
Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Penang, Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah will elect new state legislators on Aug 12, while the official campaigning period will start on July 29.
The elections are expected to see contests between Perikatan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan and its ally Barisan Nasional.
According to a voting trends study by political scientist Prof Dr Bridget Welsh after GE15, Perikatan managed to snag 37% of votes among those under 30 – the highest proportion among all political coalitions.
Pakatan leaders such as Abbas Salimi Adzmi also saw the same trend on social media in the last moments before the Nov 19 polling day.
He said Perikatan was able to make huge gains among young voters during GE15 due to its dominance of social media channels.
“When we monitored content on social media throughout GE15, we saw that content from Pakatan was more popular at the start of the campaigning period,” he told The Star.
“But four days before polling, we suddenly saw a flood of content from Perikatan that became popular on channels such as TikTok,” said Abbas, of Selangor Amanah.
Yusri said that in GE15, Perikatan maximised the impact of its social media content by crafting easy-to-understand short videos and infographics tailored towards younger voters.
“In the upcoming state elections, the same situation will occur.
“Young voters will open their minds to all parties. Whoever dominates social media with content that is concise and focused will sway younger voters,” added Yusri.
Public affairs specialist Amir Fareed Rahim said the launch of the new social media platform Threads might also heat up the political fervour in political campaigning in cyberspace, especially in urban areas.
But despite the importance of social media, he said these platforms could not totally replace physical events and outreach, which themselves lend content for effective social media posts.
“Candidates being greeted by enthusiastic crowds on walkabouts or pictures of a party’s flags being put up helps with the creation of compelling social media content,” said Amir Fareed, who is director of strategy at KRA Group.
“Social media is an important messaging platform to shape narratives and to generally connect with voters, but building emotional resonance is becoming more complex and requires more than just a strong social media presence,” he said.