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The upcoming Romanian elections under the lens of social communication

On December 6, elections will be held in Romania, the country we have chosen for the headquarters of Digital At Play. Therefore, 20 days before this event, we wanted to carry out an impartial, quantitative and qualitative analysis on the digital communication of the two main parties, the PNL and the PSD.

We share this document with a neutral spirit and from the perspective of digital specialists, so we invite you to read it in a non-political way. Our main question is: Can social media predict the outcome of the next election?


A question of numbers: where are we?

The 2016 elections made PSD successful, led by Liviu Dragnea. From here on, a succession of crises led to the creation of the current Orban government (PNL), which ended in February 2020. Since then, Romania has been ruled by an emergency coalition. The elections that took place in September 2020 decreed the success of PNL (link to results:


https://www.mediafax.ro/politic/rezultate-finale-alegeri-locale-2020-pnl-castiga-primul-loc-cu-peste-30-din-voturi-urmat-de-psd-alianta-usr-plus-scor-modest-de-sub-7-19647590).


Today, PNL and PSD are competing for the win. The first one has an advantage of 3,6 points for BCS pollsters, while the analysis of IMAS leads to a 10% advantage and that of USR PLUS to 17%. The scenario is therefore varied, with estimates that lean towards a PNL win and a lot of projections made, instead of an open game - another reason that makes interesting the perspective of understanding the way these parties are using social media and what are the differences in this field.


20 days before the election


We used Fanpage karma, a service with over 600,000 users in 180 countries and 10 million Facebook profiles. The choice of this social channel is dictated by the parties themselves: both have their biggest fan bases here and do not actively use other social networks, except Twitter for the PSD and Youtube for both. The result shows us various aspects, which among other things are useful for any business that wants to compare itself to a competitor:


NUMBER OF FANS

With 350,000 fans, PNL is the majority "social" party in the country. A much broader result than the predictions of the various polling companies.


GROWTH

However, it is the PSD that has achieved the greatest growth, with an increase rate 6 times higher than the majority party according to the polls.


ENGAGEMENT

How many of the Facebook followers of the two parties actually perform an action that determines interest in the shared content? In this case the answer is simple. It is once again the PSD that has the advantage through more likes, shares, reactions and comments than its opponent.


Understanding the numbers

The scene that emerges is only apparently easy to read. The level of growth does indeed indicate an increase in interest, but we must remember that it is much easier to have high growth numbers when the fanbase is smaller than the competitor’s. In this case, a growth of 0.5% for the PSD on a 113,000 fan base is equivalent to just over 500 accounts, while in the same reporting period, the PNL settled at just under 300.


Enough to talk about a coming back?

With regard to the engagement, it should be considered that the victory is apparent for the PSD, in fact the 8,7% engagement of the PNL on a 3 times larger fanbase means, in fact, greater reach for the latter.


What really emerges from this picture is how low the social numbers linked to politics are. Basically, if we add up the two parties, we realize that together they slightly exceed 460,000 fans, or 5% of all active Facebook accounts in Romania.


Is this a sign of general lack of interest in politics?

Is it correct to say that 95% of Romanians are not actively involved in following the communication of their parties?

Are there any personal factors involved?


Surely the 2,2 million Lidl fans and 1,4 million eMag fans show a situation where it is the brands - and not the political associations - that attract attention. This has led us to draw the conclusion that the "parliamentary" institutions are by nature little inclined to be followed on social media.


So we looked at the individual candidates. In this case, however, the scene doesn’t improve, with substantially a few tens of thousands of fans, also in this case apparently in favor of Marcel Ciolacu, the PSD candidate, as opposed to Ludovic Orban, the PNL candidate. Social media confirm a lack of interest in following parties directly. To those who think it can be attributed to a young audience or not of voting age, it should be remembered that Facebook actually represents all socio-demographic categories in Romania in a balanced way, including the more mature target.


The data is confirmed on Twitter as well. It’s only the PSD that has an active account which, combined with the # SiguranțaUnuiTraiMaiBun activity, decidedly doesn’t have impressive results. Out of the 290,000 Romanian users on this channel, PSD party has only just over 3,000 followers, which translates into about 1% interest.


So is social media useless in determining the winner of the Romanian elections?

If we estimate that 95% of Romanians are not represented by these channels, could we say that working on 5% can be statistically significant? Methodologically yes, also because the Romanian accounts are substantially representative of all the country’s socio-demographic segments that will vote on December 6th. What can this scenario confirm?

  • a stable trend in account growth would confirm the PNL victory scenario;

  • a more significant gap in the PSD growth rate (let's imagine therefore not 10%, but at least 35% growth) could change the balance in a couple of weeks. However, we are at the time limit for this type of overtaking;

  • the role of influencers, not analyzed here, who could have a civic awakening and invite their fellow citizens to vote close to the election date, publicly taking sides and inviting people to vote.

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