The powerful role of social media in the race to Number 10

Posted on 22/07/2019 by Team Hallam

The political landscape has changed in recent years and parties across the globe are learning that alongside advertising on traditional mediums such as television and newspapers, they must engage in social media activity if they want to successfully compete with their rival parties.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt

(Image: REUTERS)

Take Donald Trump for example; however controversial he may be, his decision to put social media advertising at the centre of his marketing strategy arguably put him in front of an audience that helped to secure his win as President of the United States back in 2016/2017. Research shows that the Trump administration spent $150 million dollars on Instagram and Facebook advertising in the weeks preceding the US election. 

Bring it back to the UK, and the race to replace Theresa May as the UK’s next Prime Minister is now well underway as only two candidates remain in the running – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. 

In this blog, we look at each candidate for the Prime Minister role and the link between their engagement on social media compared to the position they now find themselves in the race to become the next resident of Downing Street.

Why use social media?

Each social media networking site targets a different audience and uses different tools to allow people to share ideas, videos, photos and links to form a network of like-minded people. 

It is for this reason that there has been a rise in UK political parties as a group and as individuals, using social media campaigns as a way to overthrow their political opponents. Take Extinction Rebellion for example: this political movement is being spurred on through social media channels like Facebook and Twitter and has seen a huge amount of interaction from people across the world.

Before the campaign began

Although Theresa May announced her resignation on the morning of Friday 24th May, in truth, the journey for some candidates had started way before then. This is what gave us the inspiration behind auditing the social campaigns of all original 10 candidates to find out where it all went wrong for the failed eight, and who is ahead of the game for the race to win the title of Prime Minister. 

In the week before the Tory leadership campaign began, candidates were required to start declaring their spending. This showed that Dominic Raab spent over £56,000 testing his leadership message with targeted ads on Facebook before abruptly pulling them all.

The MPs campaigning to become the UK’s next Prime Minister are limited to spending £150,000 on their campaigns, per Conservative Party rules leaked to Sky News. However, this limit only applied to spending before Friday 7th June.

Between 30th May and 7th June, Raab promoted 130 ads, each offering small variations of a message, or targeting in an apparent bid to test what appeals most to the public.

Dominic Raab social media adverts

(Image: Medium)

In one case, over 80 ads appeared using the same text but featuring an assortment of photos of Raab in different poses, superimposed with variations on his campaign slogan, including ‘Back Raab’, ‘Back Brexit’, ‘Back Raab, Back Brexit’ or ‘Fairer Britain’.

Ready, set, go

It is no surprise that at the beginning of their campaigns, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was leaps and bounds ahead of the rest in terms of followers, having already secured over half a million. This meant that Boris already had a massive 4857.13% more followers than Mark Harper, who came in at the bottom with only 11,778.

And with Boris and Jeremy Hunt in the final two, social media shows that they have remained ahead of their competitors the entire time with no other candidates even coming close. 


My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.” Boris Johnson


The knockout rounds

During the knockout stages Conservative MPs vote in secret ballots, to back the candidate they hope to become the next Prime Minister. 

Number of followers throughout prime ministerial campaign

See how the results played out…

Round one:

The first round of elimination saw Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and Mark Harper voted out of the running, with Matt Hancock dropping out of his own accord. Looking at their social media, these four candidates had the lowest number of followers and impressions over their previous two hundred tweets than the remaining candidates. 

What is interesting is Matt Hancock: although he made the choice to drop out of the race, statistics show he had the highest percentage of positive engagement with his tweets (50.5%) and the lowest percentage of negative engagement (2.5%) out of all the candidates, showing that the content he was delivering to his audience was working well. 

Round two:

Dominic Raab was eliminated from the race after receiving just 30 votes from MPs. During this time, Rory Stewart overtook Jeremy Hunt with his number of followers – rising from 160,349 to 179,082 over the week. 

This may have been down to his #RoryWalksOn campaign, in which he travelled around the country looking to speak to people of all backgrounds. Initially the campaign worked well, with the positive engagement on his social posts standing at an impressive 30.5%, however he did also receive some backlash after a video surfaced online of a group walking away from one of his interviews after finding out he was a politician. 

Round three:

The third round of eliminations on 19th June saw Rory Stewart leave with only 27 votes and Boris Johnson holding the lead with 143 votes, leaving a gap of 105 votes between him and the bottom of the table: Sajid Javid, who secured only 38 votes from parliament, although still remaining in the running. 

The current state of play

With the decision being announced tomorrow (23/07/2019) Boris Johnson is the clear front runner as the bookies favourite, with odds at 1/80

The current state of play

Throughout the course of these elections, both the final candidates have seen a significant increase in their social media following with Jeremy Hunt’s twitter followers growing from 165,975 on 13/06/2019 to 195,628 on 22/07/2019 – an impressive 17.87% rise. 

Boris Johnson has also seen his social following increase by 8.5%, going from 583,851 to 633,486 in the same timeframe. 

What happens now?

Following the month-long contest, Tory officials will now tally up the tens of thousands of votes cast by party members across the UK, before declaring the new prime minister tomorrow 23/07/2019. 

Looking at the results on social media over the last month, we have seen a clear correlation between the number of followers each candidate has and the success they have had in this campaign, and with Boris Johnson leaps and bounds ahead of his competitors on social media, it is no surprise to us that he is the clear favourite. 

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The powerful role of social media in the race to Number 10

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