Abstract: The objective of this study was to investigate social media and voting pattern of youth in 2015 (2023) general elections in FCT, Abuja. The study was anchored on Technological Determinism Theory. A cross-sectional survey research method coupled with questionnaire as a data collection instrument to elicit responses from the respondents. The data collected were analyzed using descriptive statistics (frequency and percentage method) while the data were presented with the aid of tables. Findings show that (81.1%) have access to social media platforms with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram topped the list of social media visited very often. Also, voting choice of electorates during 2015 (2023) general election was influenced by the social media partially and lots of respondents were busy using social media for one activities or the other ranging from getting exposed to political campaign, reading and commenting on political matters etc and it is very obvious that the future of social media for electioneering is bright if the challenges spotted such as poor internet access, source credibility, fake news, abuse of social media among others could be corrected. It was therefore, recommended that political office holders, those who loss and political parties should keep maintain their online fans, followers and keep relating with them, seek their opinions on matters, know how they are feeling etc and shouldn’t wait until another election.
Keywords: Voting Patterns
1.1 Background to the study
Democracy as a system of government that is based on popularity, therefore, it is a game of majority because majority carry the vote. The hallmark of democracy is election while the beauty of election is the level of electorate’s awareness, mobilization, education and participation since election dwells on popular will (Olayinka, 2015).
No wonder political parties, partys’ candidates and their sponsors spend lots of money, time and energy in canvassing and gaining majority of voters through campaigns and rallies. These activities never end at the scene of the event but are highly sponsored in the media to create certain effect on the viewers, listeners and readers of news media using different headlines size, pictures, camera angles, position of stories and choice of words among other techniques.
However, the art of politicking has always relied upon the promotion of one party, candidate or point of view over another. The only thing that has changed is the method and techniques available to political communicators i.e media availability. In the early days of political advertising and campaign, communicators relied upon the dissemination of messages by word of mouth, traditional mass media such as radio, television, newspaper, magazine, billboard and posters etc.
In terms of the sheer volume of information available to citizens via the media on issues – political parties and leaders – electioneering campaigns often represents a high point for political communications. Concerns about political bias in the mass media are at the heart of debates about the roles and responsibilities of the media at election time. Behind these concerns is the assumption that there may be effects, intended or unintended, on public opinion and political behaviour and, ultimately, electoral outcomes (BBC, 2008).
The traditional media which include: TV, radio and print have not lived up to expectations in terms of making genuine information available to the electorate before, during, and even after elections. One of the reasons for this is that most of these traditional mass media are owned and controlled by the political elites in Nigeria, thus, the need for a shift to a more interactive media that allows for user-to-user generated contents which have eliminated the gatekeeping and agenda setting monopoly of the traditional mass media.
Meanwhile, as technology wax stronger the channels available to political advertisers and politician grew exponentially including electorates (voters). The twentieth century marked the first time in political history that political communicators had the means to reach audience on a mass scale through social networking platform such as Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Instagram etc that do not only make communication effective, two ways but very interactive manner etc. New media are sweeping away the limitations of the analogue world and weakening the grip of government and private -owned media platforms of information monopoly and control.
However, there has been a growing interest in the relationship between social media use and voting patterns of youths in recent years. Social media is a major source of information for youths: A large number of young people rely on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for news and information.
Guardian Nigeria (2022) explained that social trends has characterized Nigeria, out of a population of 214 million (as of early 2022), as many as 109 million people use the internet, with an even higher number of mobile phone connections: just over 176 million. The most popular social media in Nigeria, surprisingly enough, is YouTube, with almost 33 million active users at the beginning of 2022. Second place goes to Facebook, with 26 million users, while on the bottom step of the podium, but far behind the other two, is Instagram, with only 9 million users (Guardian Nigeria, 2022).
These figures say a lot about the tastes of the Nigerian population, but also about the multimedia content preferred by an extremely young nation, where the average age is just over 18. In the African nation, at least for the time being, the power of video seems to have outweighed the visual impact of the image, a trend that is also lucidly witnessed by the data on Instagram usage (Guardian Nigeria, 2022).
Hence, social media are influencing voting behaviour, studies have shown that social media have significant impact on the voting patterns of youths. For example, a study conducted by RiteQuest Research Institute found that exposure to social media messages from friends and family members significantly increased voters turnout among young people during the 2023 general elections. Social media facilitates political engagement as social media serves as platform for political engagement and activism among young people (RiteQuest Research Institute, 2023). It allows them to connect with like-minded individuals, share information and ideas, and organize campaigns and events.
Overall, the relationship between social media use and voting patterns of youths is complex and multifaceted. While social media can have a positive impact on political engagement and voter turnout, it can also reinforce existing biases and create polarization. As such, it is important for young people to critically evaluate the information they consume on social media and for social media companies to take responsibility for promoting accurate information and diverse perspectives (RiteQuest Research Institute, 2023).
It is against this backdrop, the research examines social media and voting pattern of youth with a specific focus on the 2015/2019 and 2023 general election in FCT particularly in Gwagwalada and also appraise the contribution of these platforms on the credibility and the general conduct of the poll, with a projection into how new media (social media) platforms can be better utilized for future elections in Nigeria and other Africa countries (Although, the study is on 2015 general election), however, you can always advance it to cover the recent 2023 general election and fine-turn it).
1.2 Problem Statement
With the rise of the information communication technology (social media), the public domain is growing; information that used to be in the expert domain is becoming publicly available and new mechanisms for public involvement are being explored.
Also, the gross misused of the social media in the just conclude 2015 presidential election in Nigeria call for urgent attention on how to use social media during elections as unverified election results were tweeting, posting and sharing on Twitter and Facebook respectively.
Nevertheless, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Whatsapp etc offer unique platform for political education, debate, opinion exchange, dialogue, modification of opinions among others.
To this end, research determines to examines social media and voting pattern of youth: a study of 2015/2019 Presidential Elections in FCT particularly in Gwagwalada and also appraise its influence on the credibility and the overall conduct of the 2015 poll with a projection into how new media (social media) platforms can be better utilize for future elections in Nigeria and other Africa countries.
1.3 Objectives of the study
- To examine the extent at which the youth in Gwagwalada use social media for political purpose during the 2015/2019 presidential elections.
- To examine whether social media usage among youth in Gwagwalada increase their political participation in the 2015/2019 presidential elections.
1.4 Research Questions
- To what extent did youth in Gwagwalada use social media for political purpose during the 2015/2019 presidential elections?
- Did social media usage among youth in Gwagwalada increase their political participation in the 2015/2019 presidential elections?
1.5 Significance of the Study
This research is useful to political parties and candidates in future elections on how to use the social media and other new media platforms in mobilising, educating, enlightening and gaining public support towards winning political seats.
It helps political office aspirants and holders on how to manage communication about themselves especially in the emerging social media space now that citizens are part of content producer not only consumers.
This work contributes to the existing body of knowledge available in journalism, media studies, mass communication, public relations, political advertising/marketing and political science as its concept is just a new phenomenon issues with little literatures available.
1.6 Scope of the Study
The research which focuses on social media and voting pattern of youth has been narrowed in scope to the youth in Gwagwalada local government area of the FCT, Abuja in the 2015 (2023) general election. Thus, the geographical location of this study was Abuja. Hence, the choice of Gwagwalada L.G Abuja was due to the proximity to the researcher, other factor is due to inadequate time, geographical locations, fund and other logistics. This cannot be effectively discussed without considering the demographic factor of Gwagwalada youth in terms age, gender, education, marital status, religion etc.
1.7 Operational Definition of the Terms
Social Media: It refers to a group of internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of web 2.0 which allow the interaction, creation and posting of political messages and other information such as Facebook.com, Twitter.com, youtube.com and blog sites used to mobilized and sensitized citizens in 2015/2019/2023 general elections in Nigeria.
Voting Pattern of Youth: This refers to the choice made by the electorate either to vote for a candidate or party in the 2015/2019 presidential elections in Nigeria.
2015/2019 Presidential Elections: These were the fifth and sixth presidential elections since Nigeria returned to Democracy in 1999 where electorate vote for the president and members of the National Assembly in Nigeria.
FCT: This refers to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Citizen Journalism: This is the practice to describe the act of individual within a given society, community, state or nation engaging in the gathering, processing and publishing of news materials such as posting, tweet and given support to a particular candidate in an election on the internet.