A Hungarian version of this post also exists.
The 2014 Romanian presidential elections have been (most certainly) won by Klaus Iohannis. Compared to the other candidate, Victor Ponta, he has been generally regarded as a silent and pragmatic leader. And he didn’t even have a Facebook page until recently. However, when after the first round of the elections it seemed that Ponta will almost certainly win, the Romanian online communities – driven mainly by the social media-aged population and intellectuals in large cities of Transylvania and the capital Bucharest – started a massive pro-Iohannis campaign. I have experienced this first hand, with more than 50% of my Facebook friends being from Romania – every Romanian who opened his Facebook or Twitter in the past two weeks knows what I’m talking about. I believe that this (among a gazillion other things of course 🙂 ), has eventually lead to the victory of Iohannis. Let us look at the social media statistics!
It all started with the not-so-smooth first round of the elections, on November 2. Because of various organizational issues, a large number of expatriate citizens could not vote on their respective embassies. This started outrage in the coming days, with many anti-government protests occurring in the large cities of the country, mainly in Transylvania. Controversies were also reported about the large participation percentage at polls of some southern counties. When the diaspora population – already active on social media out of pure necessity to communicate with their loved ones at home – found solidarity in citizens from home, increasingly worried about a winning Ponta, they started to eagerly share statuses, short messages, articles, hashtags, memes and blog posts and everything else that conveyed a supportive message for Iohannis. The campaign peaked on election day (November 16), with everybody calling on each other to go and vote (#yeslavot, #alegeri2014) and especially on the residents of Székelyland, whom had the lowest participation rates in the first round and the expats living in the diaspora (#diasporavoteaza), considered to be mostly pro-Iohannis. Surprisingly (or not…) the diaspora encountered difficulties again, with lines of 9-10 hours in major European cities being common. This strengthened the online call for vote for all citizens and they showed an unprecedented solidarty and thankfulness towards the diaspora voters (#mulțumimdiaspora). So how could Iohannis win the elections from such a substantial disadvantage after the first round?
As the prime-minister of Romania for the past two and a half years, Ponta has had a Facebook page long before (September 2010) Iohannis (May 2014). Ponta’s followers have been increasing steadily from the beginning (including two potentially suspicious step changes in 2013 and 2014) and in May 2014, when Iohannis started his official Facebook page, Ponta already had around 400,000 followers. Iohannis didn’t have any mentionable amount until a few weeks before the elections (data openly available on Google Wildfire until January 2015).
Let us zoom in to the week just before the second round of the elections:
We can see that while Ponta’s followers has kept their growth rate and followed a linear trend (in fact the growth rate slowed down a bit!), Iohannis’ followers skyrocketed exponentially, gaining more than 200,000 followers on the last day before the elections (November 15). But Facebook popularity alone, cannot be an indicator of a successful social media drive. Let us look at the tweets of the election period. The leading hashtags of the elections in general (without any candidate names) were #yeslavot, #alegeri2014 and #diasporavoteaza, often appearing alongside each other (data openly available on Topsy).
We can celarly see the huge difference between the scales of the first and second round of the elections, with the second round having an echo 3 times larger in the digital space. Zooming in on election day, we can see that #yeslavot and #alegeri2014 are the tone setters (“ies la vot” means “i’m going to vote” in Romanian, while “alegeri” is “elections”), and the #diasporavoteaza only grows towards the evening hours (Romanian time), with a corresponding increase in #alegeri2014. This can be explained as the consequence of the problems encountered with the expat voting sections explained in the beginning – pictures of people waiting in long lines in frustration were now all over Facebook and Twitter – and the constantly updating preliminary results suggesting a potential win for Iohannis (data openly available on hashtags.org).
Clearly, the second round of the elections was a much bigger buzz in the digital world than the first one, but let’s see the share of the support of the candidates! #iohannis had the most mentions on election day, roughly 200 more than #ponta, after a de facto tie the days before. This could trick us into believing that the two candidates had similar support online. While they did have an almost equal amount of voters in reality (look at the tight winning margin), the online picture is far from that. #nuponta (“no ponta” in Romanian) has almost as many mentions as #ponta, indicating that a significant portion of the #ponta hashtags could possibly have a negative connotation attributed to them (data on Topsy).
Looking at the daily graphs, it is clear that there was an early trend in the morning hours with simultaneous mentions of #ponta and #nuponta and a late afternoon trend of #iohannis and #ponta, intensifying roughly at the same time as #diasporavoteaza – indicating that at least a portion of the #ponta mentions here could mean the person not to vote for, mentioned together with the hastag #iohannis, which quickly becomes the most mentioned non-generic hashtag of the day (data on hashtags.org)
Mr. Klaus Iohannis, good job on the elections! And good luck with being the president of the social media generation – it is they who elected you, they want you, inside and outside of the borders. Now you have to live up to their expectations! Let us conclude with the comparison of the search phrases “ponta presedinte” and “iohannis presedinte” (from Topsy), where Iohannis clearly makes a home-run on election day: