AAP won Delhi by winning the online battle first

Aam aadmi party had been written off by all the political parties and by most media. For it to rise to power in Delhi seems almost miraculous given the lack of media coverage it got closer to the elections. How could it do so well when even the exit polls showed it to be nowhere near the 28 seats it eventually won? How could such a young party come to rule Delhi?

The key explanation is that every fifth voter is now under the age of 23 and voting for the first time. This changes everything, right from the issues that are important for a political win, to the medium of conversation. AAP happened to be on the right side of the groundswell and benefited greatly by the youth votes and their online conversations. This even explains the voter turnout in Delhi (63.5%, its highest ever).

In hindsight, traditional media was irrelevant for the Delhi elections, and social media drove most of the debate. The shrillness of online chatter made these elections different, as social media amplified every faux pas and new memes came to life with every political story. The name-calling by political rivals went viral and saturated the cyberspace. Participants themselves had no control on the direction of the debate. A staggering 65% of Delhi’s electorate is on Facebook (80L), and AAP reaped the benefit of it. Its single minded focus on corruption worked well for its Social media engagement.  Social media thrives on negative sentiments a lot more than on positive. By tapping into the online angst against corruption, especially after the Aana Hazare movement, AAP could reach out to a lot more people than it could have otherwise with its mere 10-15L followers on its FB and twitter accounts. It became a part of all online anti-corruptions chatter, even as it was getting a cold shoulder from traditional media. AAP used tools like thunderclap to create a massive digital wave on top of the tide that was anyway in its favour. All this resulted in AAP trended most number of times than all other parties. Their message was clearly the most honest and touched peoples hearts.

The online buzz for APP was palpable throughout the year and should have given a heads-up about the storm that was about to hit Delhi, but it seemed too drastic a change for anyone to believe. AAP was constantly written off by political parties and media.

Google trends (chart above) show AAP massively increasing its lead over BJP and Congress four weeks before the elections, even though most of the exit polls showing AAP winning much lesser seats than its rivals.

AAP also used the online platforms to overcome the biggest hurdle in tackling corruption in India, i.e. its own election funding. It raised 17Cr through small donations transparently, in which the social media and online community played a big role by spreading their message. About 40% of their donations come from online doners. This will allow AAP to take a firm stand against corruption which other traditional parties wont be able to take even if they want to. In most traditional parties 75% of the funding of most parties is unaccounted  for, and this makes them obligated to the people they have been funded by, leading to the unending cycle of corruption.

Weather AAP survives the tricky coalition, or if it is the right prescription for India is a different story (my article on why AAP may not be good for India), but its rise has helped change the entire political dialogue in India. For the first time there has been no horse trading elections. The BJP with 32 seats is the biggest party and is a tantalizing 3 seats away from ruling Delhi, but it dare not engage in horse trading. Honesty is in.

Social media has brought about unprecedented accountability and excitement to politics in India. Holy cows that traditional media will never dare touch for the fear of upsetting the powerful are the grist for the online memes.  Engaging with this irreverent youth on social platforms is the key to winning in politics now. A survey earlier this year claims that social media could influence the outcome in 160 of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies in 2014 elections.  Another study by Google showed that 37% of urban Indian registered voters were already online and access the internet regularly, with 85% of them claiming to have voted in the last elections and 94% of them saying that they will vote in the forthcoming elections.

Political parties will need to read the mood of the online voters better than they have done till now. And what will work for elections, is what works online in general – being authentic.

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