The so-called ‘traditional’ political parties have often faced criticism and ridicule for their attempts to harness the power of social media for their electoral benefit. Most will at some point have been rightly pilloried for failing to make the most of their post or making a hash of their hashtags.
There are of course some success stories. Barack Obama financed much of his campaign by galvanising his support via social networks.
For smaller parties and candidates though, there is little to lose and much to gain from viral campaigns. That is currently the case in Spain for hopefuls in Sunday’s local elections in Madrid and Barcelona. They may not have the financial war-chests of the giants of Spanish politics – the centre-right PP and the Socialist PSOE – but they do have an army of left-wing illustrators, graphic designers, video editors and amateurs of photoshop to raise their profile. These unpaid but politically engaged conscripts have been flooding social networks with thousands of home-made videos, memes and gifs in support of Ahora Madrid and Barcelona en Comú, the two coalitions backed by the new anti-austerity party and scourge of the political establishment: Podemos.
Charismatic judge Manuela Carmena, standing for Madrid Mayor, vows to fight corruption, change politics and make a “warm and welcoming” capital. She will cut her salary if she wins the election and drop the official car that comes with the job.
And the social networks like that.
Giffers and memers have been busy firing out their messages of support:
Faithful to the social media etiquette, Manuela Carmena has made a point of thanking these viral volunteers:
(Thank you so much to those doing their own campaign for @AhoraMadrid. With ideas like @mlg_madrid or @madconmanuela you are surprising us every day)
@mlg_madrid is the “Madrid Graphic Liberation Movement”. They have their own Tumblr, Facebook page and Twitter account. Their pages are a joyful chaos of memes, gifs and some very high quality illustrations inspired by Carmena.
They also produce some videos reminiscent of the darkest days of David Hasselhoff, like this one ‘featuring’ Julio Iglesias.
@madconmanuela is based on the same principle. There’s no official link to Podemos, they’re just supporters collaborating, although perhaps more “politically correct” and with more fans.
Their tumblr and Instagram accounts feature some good quality design work and call for fans to join the “physical” campaign by printing out their election posters and posting them on walls around Madrid.
It’s a similar scene in Barcelona, with mlg_madrid’s sister movement @mlg_barcelona (Barcelona Graphic Liberation Movement) campaigning in support of anti-eviction candidate Ada Colau, who polls suggest could be the next Barcelona mayor with a program based on social equality and tackling problems linked to the excesses of tourism.
And it works on Twitter, with Manuela and Podemos holding their own against the likes of George Clooney and Malcolm X.
Twitter screenshot, on May 19, 12:00 CET
Both these massive Internet campaigns are accompanied by multiple social events and symbolic protests, all very much in the Podemos spirit of things.
OK it’s all very nice, but does it work?
It’s still too early to measure the impact of this explosion of campaign creativity. The latest opinion poll for El País on May 14 suggests that Ahora Madrid has gained some support since the previous poll 12 days earlier: a 2.2% boost thanks in part to voters stolen from the Socialists and the abstentionnist camp.
If Metroscopia’s poll is accurate it could mean a tie in Madrid, which has been a Conservative stronghold since 1989.
The public’s perception of Carmena, unknown to the public before she announced her candidacy, is generally positive. With an approval rating of 37% she is far ahead of the next best rated candidates (22% for Begoña Villacís of Ciudadanos and David Ortega for UPuD).
Barcelona seems to have been leaning to the left since the beginning of the campaign and the latest poll there confirms this trend.
Ciudadanos, a centre-right party that also claims to break with the practices of traditional parties, also keeps surprising with it’s performance. Polls suggest it could get around 16.5% of the vote in Madrid, just behind the Socialist party. Its use of social media is also applauded, seen as much more efficient than the ‘traditional’ Popular Party and Socialist Party.
The key to the local elections in Spain’s main cities seems to be in the hands of the large percentage of undecided voters, around a quarter of the electorate in both Barcelona and Madrid.
Will they be seduced by the anarchy of the Graphic Liberation Movements or by the more traditional campaign tactics of the usual political suspects (see the less-inspired tweets below)? Let’s find out on Twitter on Sunday.