Elections 2009: The Digital Connection

I had two journalists call me on Wednesday wanting to talk about the role of the Internet and mobile in the Elections. Here is a summary of the points I made:

  • Internet reaches about 50 million of 700 million (7%) voters; so overall impact is small. Question is how much influence does this group have and that is not clear.  Unlike in marketing products where the audience is top of the pyramid and therefore highly desirable, in a democracy, every vote counts the same – and there are no prizes for coming second in a constituency!
  • The mobile (and especially SMS) can be a game-changer in this election. SMS can reach upto half the voting population (about 375 million of 700 million), and messages can direct and non-targeted. Also, many interactive services (find your polling both, who are the crminals contesting in your constituency) will increases the appeal and use of SMS in the election.
  • One thing which I am seeing increasing use of is email. Chain mails have started giving viewpoints different from what we are seeing on the traditional mass media.
  • Social media (Facebook, Orkut) can amplify reach, but these are still early days, and their impact will be limited.
  • Thus, email and SMS forwarding, along with the social networking sites, can help spread messages fast, but their impact will be mostly restricted to urban constituencies.
  • The big impact will hopefully be in an increase in voting percentages in urban areas, given all the awareness campaigns that have been taking place.
  • So, equating India 2009 to US 2008 in terms of the impact of digital media on elections is incorrect — India is probably more similar to US 2000 or US 2004. These are early days, and therefore the goal should be try out lots of experiments. Then see what works, and build on that for the state elections that will keep happening and the next general elections.
  • Overall, this is a good start – and with the 2-way tools that we now have at our disposal (email, SMS, blogs, websites) we have started on an irrevesible to citizen involvement and engagement in governance, which is what democracy is all about.

34 thoughts on “Elections 2009: The Digital Connection

  1. SMS in rural can make a big impact.

    I am just hypothesizing….from politician point of view….there are ways to get cell numbers in each location…location specific campaigning can be done on a personal note.

    We will build new bridges….we will serve you with new bus-routes….we will make water available…we will make electricity available…

    (so you promise what ever is not there!!! remember, location also means community, caste and others).

    This can make a big impact on the 20% undecided voters on the n-1 or n-2 days.

  2. rajesh is right, the inflexion point for these new technologies will come in the next election and given the state of affairs even as early as 2011. as of now the critical mass is simply not there.

    One major problem with sms is local language, most people in villages and small towns and the elderly do not use or even read sms-es because of this problem.

    Or you will need a talking sms facilty right on the phone itself, some variants of which already exist and is a good solution for a multi lingual literacy challenged country like india. Even then, there is the problem of spam!

    The major use for these techs in the interim will be post election, as a tool for citizen led governance. In fact only such a tool and its constant use over the interim that will catalyse the use of these technologies as trend changers in the next election.

    Such tools do help convert the current zietgeist, the yearning of ordinary people for participation in governance, a zeitgeist that Rajesh has succintly captured, into an actionable realm.

    On a jocular note and taking up kasi’s thought stream i look forward to the day when I rcv an SMS saying that your election gift of rs.10,000 has already been credited into your bank account. That will be the day when democracy pays back and in style….. 🙂


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  5. It’s good to hear about citizen involvement and engagement in governance, which is what democracy is all about. Do the citizens have the time— Yes they have some time to spread what they have heard from another (Un?)informed persons. The other day I heard – why is this terroism emerging on the national & intl stage just before the elections? Our ruling party has something to do with it – they wish to create a fear scenario to fetch more votes. Citizens are free to believe this – this is democracy.
    Our media is free, even to the extent that during 26/11 (another figment of the politics, the beginning of the so called terror drama) so much went on unwanted and unedited per any civilised government media’s decorum. There was no show of any govt. control over this national calamity (if it indeed was, and was not made up as those people I hear insist…); good governance includes crisis management and media regultion. Making everyone happy has become the habit of the coalition governments – this and in the past. What India needs is a strong win win for a single party – or a learned, aware and capable monarch to take over the reins of this beauty to ride it to greater heights. India Jai Ho! Right Technology tai ho, best electoral victory ka na bhai ho.

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