For the second time in two years, Austrians will be heading to the polls on Sunday for the 2019 legislative election.
Current polling suggests a comfortable lead for Sebastian Kurz and the People’s Party (ÖVP) which are expected to win around 34% of the vote.
Social media has played an increasing role in the election campaign this year, with political parties and their lead candidates seeking to increase their online engagement with users.
From August 27th to September 25th, five of the six major political parties (Social Democratic Party - SPÖ, Freedom Party - FPÖ, the Greens, NEOS and JETZT) have together spent more than €200,000 on Facebook advertising.
Meanwhile, in the same period, the personal pages of party leaders of Pamela Rendi-Wagner (SPÖ) and Norbert Hofer (FPÖ) had each spent more than €100,000 each on adverts.
Dr. Uta Russmann, Professor of Communications at FFHWien told Euronews "we have never seen such an extensive social media campaigning in these elections.”
“Social media is now integrated in the whole campaign and parties are now adjusting their communication towards it.”
Dr. Paul Schmidt, Secretary-General of Austrian Society for European Politics, also noted that social media campaigning has spread to multiple platforms.
"On Instagram, you can now follow party leaders with every step of the campaign, in real time, as well as improvised video clips on Facebook and Twitter."
Leading the polls but low social media interaction
Using CrowdTangle, software that compares and analyses social media performance, Euronews found that, despite leading the polls, the People's Party and Sebastian Kurz were trailing their opponents on social media engagement.
From August 27th to September 25th, the People's Party had over 31,000 interactions on Facebook, only a 5% share of the voice when it came to all political parties on the ballot.
Meanwhile the Freedom Party and Social Democratic party had around 33% and 30% share of voice respectively, with the Greens third with more than 77,000 interactions in the same period.
Similarly, despite having nearly eight times as many followers on his Facebook page, Sebastian Kurz had half as many social media interactions as Pamela Rendi-Wagner (300,000 compared to 630,000).
On Instagram, looking at the rate of social media engagement, as opposed to total page interactions, the People's Party and Sebastian Kurz trailed all of their political opponents.
They had a "very wide and well-established group of followers"
Political analysts argue that it is social media experience of Lurz and the People's Party that has focused their campaign into higher quality engagement on Facebook and Instagram.
"The huge difference is that Sebastian Kurz and the People's Party already had a very good social media campaign in the last election two years ago," said Russmann.
Schmidt added that the People's Party already had "a very wide and well-established group of followers on Facebook" before the 2019 election was called.
While the social media success of the Greens is no surprise given worldwide social media campaigning on climate change, political analysts argue that the Social Democratic Party had to "start from scratch" when it came to online campaigning after they changed their leadership.
"It's all about the personality, it's not so much about the political party being strong on social media," said Schimdt.
Russmann added that "I wouldn’t really call it a headstart, but I do think they (the People's Party) had a lot of experience from their last campaign that they have used to good effect.”
2019 elections "will decide the direction Austria is taking"
Meanwhile, Schmidt was unsurprised by the number of social interactions on the Facebook page of the Freedom Party.
"When they were hit by political scandals and wanted to express their point of view and talk directly to their own fanbase, this is their own media outlet to send their own message without critical questions from any journalists."
Schmidt told Euronews the 2019 elections are especially significant "because they will decide the direction Austria is taking."
A snap election was called in Austria in May in the wake of the collapse of the ruling ÖVP/FPÖ coalition following the 'Ibizagate' corruption scandal.
Kurz later became the first chancellor in the country’s modern history to be removed from office by a no-confidence vote.