2021 Dutch Elections – How are the party pages competing on Facebook?

Key points

  • FVD gather huge levels of engagement but polling data shows the FVD on 3%
  • VVD gathering most public discussion, Haha and Angry reactions
  • Party for the Animals performing well

The Netherlands’ 2021 general election is just around the corner. With spending on Facebook advertising very low (see the thread via Whotargets.me below) the campaign is largely going to fall upon the feet of the parties organic Facebook campaigns. These efforts to influence the public organically, to spur audiences to engage an act as proxy campaigners for parties is even more vital this election period. This is because the pandemic is forcing traditional doorstep campaigning to slowdown or stop altogether, while given low spending on targeted advertising, it is organic Facebook content that will dictate a large part of Dutch party campaigns. All data graciously provided via @crowdtangle.

Page likes (followers) 8/3/2021

Page likes 8/3/2021
Forum voor Democratie -FVD236216
Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA)48776
Partij voor de Dieren121497
PVV – Partij Voor de Vrijheid6465

In page likes (followers) it is clear that FVD is dominating, with a followership over double that of the VVD, Party for the animals, or DENK. The FVD’s huge audience is somewhat translated in huge levels of engagement but the pattern is not as strong as you would expect in some forms of engagement, especially in comments.

Average engagement across the pages over the last three months

Examining average engagement, i.e. the averaged number of engagements seen per post across a period of 3 months, from 08/12/2020-07/03/2021. One can instantly see Thierry Baudet’s FVD dominating, with Mark Rutte’s Liberal governing party VVD in second. Of interest is the strong showing of the Party for the Animals, an animal rights based party.

In likes and shares the FVD dominate, but in comments the VVD are nearly in supremacy. This mirrors the pattern seen via the Conservative Party page in 2019, where as the party of government and focus of discussion, the page received a huge amount of interest, even through Corbyn and the Labour Party page achieved higher numbers of likes and shares.

Average video views across the pages content over the last three months

Examining average video views across the same period shows a continuing story of domination from the FVD. Like many right wing parties, such as UKIP or the Brexit Party, the FVD do very well on Facebook. This does not mean they will do well in the election, instead it shows an active core of support. This imbalance between Facebook success and electoral success is reflected in current polling seen below. The polling data shows the FVD on 3% and VVD on 23%, a range that Facebook engagement clearly does not reflect. Facebook has an older userbase and thus has an ever growing rightward skew, this makes it a very important campaign tool, but one with an audience that is becoming less reflective of electorates over time. Gone are the days where what happens on Facebook appears to mirror the offline (think Brexit or Trump, where polling was wrong but Facebook data was right), instead the FvD appear to be successful in activating a small partisan audience.

Average video length across the pages content over the last three months

Examining video length shows us the basic nature of how these parties are communicating.

Most parties are creating shorter more sharable videos, with VVD, GroenLinks and the CDA having longer average videos. This is likely because of an increased use of Facebook Live content, promoting traditional TV style content on the platform. This usefulness of this is mixed, as although it can be informative it often gets ignored because people on social media curate the content they actually view with distinction. Only the very politically interested will watch a long form press conference style video thus minimising any potential electoral impact. Some of the parties thus appear to be missing a trick as Facebook campaign content excels when it is short, sharable, graphic, informative and easily digestible.

Average reaction sentiment to the pages content over the last three months

Finally examining reaction sentiment we can see how people are on average reacting to the content sent by these party pages.

Party for the animals, PVV, DENK, SP and the SGP get the most Love reactions ion average, while VVD, D66 and the CDA attract the most Angry reactions. Finally, VVD appear to be creating humorous content, attracting by far the most Haha reactions. There is a wide pattern in the data, with each party appearing to favour a different style and thus evoke different reactions from their audiences.

We will see how the election plays out, with the pandemic clearly playing a major part because this campaign will be fought online more than ever. When it comes to the Facebook campaigns’ of the pages above, it is clear that there are a few frontrunners, with VVD, FVD and Party for the animals campaigning hard to activate and engage the public.

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