General Election 2015: How Tech Will Play Its Part

Libby Plummer
The party leaders have had to adjust to keep up with the 'digital' election (Sky News)

Social media is set to play an even bigger role than it did in the previous election while the record-breaking 469,047 applications that were made on the final day for online voting registrations also shows the increasing importance of the web among voters.

According to Twitter, 26% of the UK adult population had a smartphone during the last election in 2010. In 2014 this reached 62%, while 80% of Twitter users in the UK access the platform via mobile.

Here are just a few of the ways in which tech is playing a part in the General Election 2015...

Tech policies
The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have all pledged to improve high-speed broadband coverage across the country, with the Tories also promising that the UK will be at the forefront in the development of a 5G mobile phone network. David Cameron has also said that support for start-ups and small businesses will be offered, and similar promises have been made in the Labour and Lib Dem manifestos.


Cyber snooping at the GCHQ made a fleeting appearance in party manifestos


When it comes to GCHQ cyber snooping, the Green party has been the most vocal over keeping the surveillance within the law and maintaining transparency, while the Lib Dems suggest that a new Digital Bill would protect people's rights. Labour and the Conservatives make slightly more vague references to highlight the importance of cyber surveillance in modern society, while simultaneously protecting the right to privacy.

Online voting apps: who should I vote for?
Online voting questionnaire - technically called Voting Advice Applications or VVAs - are apps that require to you take a quiz before telling you which party matches most closely with your political concerns. VVAs like Vote For Policies and VoteMatch provide an important entry point for voters who don't have the time or desire to sift through all of the party manifestos.

Social media
All of the key political parties have seriously upped their social media strategy since the last election, with the Tories reportedly spending £100,000 on Facebook alone.

In a survey of UK Twitter users aged 18-34, one in three (34%) had changed their vote from one party to another based on something they had seen on Twitter, while 37% would go to Twitter to actively look for information about politics or the UK general election.

Twitter’s Global Head of News, Government and Elections Adam Sharp said: “We’re seeing 2015 shape up to be the first true ‘Twitter election’ in the UK. With more than three quarters (78%) of MPs already on the platform along with every major news outlet and political party in the country, we know Twitter is where the live conversation about the election is happening.
 
“What this research also shows us is that it is the place where people come to listen to these conversations and opinions, and find out about how politics affect the things that matter to them.
 
“With more than 15 million Twitter users in the UK, and many more seeing Tweets embedded across the fabric of TV, print and online news, the size of the prize is huge for campaigners who can seize the opportunity to communicate with users effectively.”

Twitter also recently introduced political 'hashflags', which produce a tiny emoji-sized logo for each of the key parties' hashtags.







The hashflags cover the 'big' ten political parties

Crowdsourcing
Increased interaction online has seen a rise in crowdsourcing, which can be particularly useful for the electorate. Sites like Democracy Club collate content from users such as election leaflets, local press links and polling station information, making it easier for voters to seek out information.

Sites like ShouldWe concentrate on issues - such as 'Should we privatise the NHS?' - and offer arguments for and against along with useful links to help voters make an informed decision.

Politics for the Facebook generation: Savvy digital coverage
As political parties have become more tech savvy, so has the press coverage with sites such as Buzzfeed, The Sun's Sun Nation and new tech title The Memo combining real-time stats with striking graphics and interactive content, while Yahoo's own News Digest app produced an Election Special.





Yahoo News Digest Election Special

Selfies
Love them or hate them, selfies are here to stay for the forseeable future. Just as social media and televised debates have become part of the campaign trail for modern politicians, so too has the selfie. Party leaders have been posing for selfies - some more successfully than others - in a bid to keep their Instagram (mainly younger) voters happy.

David Cameron taking a selfie (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Results predictions
Improving algorithms and digital analysis means that the tech used for predicting election results is getting more refined, with sites such as Electoral Calculus offering detailed forecasts of the result.

Famed American statistician Nate Silver, who has correctly predicted numerous political and sporting results in the US, has produced a model that predicts a win for the Conservatives.