[Viewpoint] Smartphones and voting

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[Viewpoint] Smartphones and voting

The expectations turned out to be right. Once again, Twitter was a critical factor in the Oct. 26 by-elections. Let’s see how Twitter demonstrated its power on the election day.

*Morning: “Only the elderly are at the polling stations.”

* Noon: “Shut up and vote.” (Kim Je-dong, a comedian, posted a photo of himself at a polling station and other celebrities followed.)

* 2 p.m.: “The current turnout is 29.5 percent. Turnout is high in three districts in Gangnam.” “Do you think I can sleep?” (Author Kong Ji-young wrote from the United States.)

* 4 p.m.: “Analysts continue to say that Na is leading.” “Emergency! Emergency!” (Architect Kim Jin-ae)

*6 p.m.: “Let’s leave and vote.” “Traffic jams downtown, use subway.” “Olympic Highway is jammed on both sides.”

*8 p.m.: “I love you. I cannot say anything became I am so emotional now.” (Author Lee Oi-soo), “I am sending Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ to everyone.” (Seoul National University Professor Cho Kuk)

There has never been so many extravagant and diversified participants in a political campaign. No campaign had this many volunteers. And no campaign was this politically lopsided. Although most of the messages appeared to be neutral, only urging people to vote, they actually were all commands to support Park Won-soon. Not only Park supporters but undecided voters would have been encouraged by the messages to head to the polling stations.

Twitter may not be able to change a voter’s choice of candidate, but it had the power to mobilize the maximum number of Park supporters. There was no Na Kyung-won in the Twitter-sphere.

The power of Twitter was evident. The turnout was 48.6 percent, higher than 45.3 percent in the 2002 Seoul mayoral election, which took place on a public holiday. Young voters flocked to polling stations and formed lines even after 8 p.m. The higher the turnout, the more the GNP needs to worry.

Twitter followers were biased toward Park. In Korea, 67 percent of smartphone users use social network services. That is higher than the 56 percent of the United States. Korea is one of the most enthusiastic users of social network services. Among the various forms of SNS, Twitter has the most power in politics. While Facebook is like chatting among friends in a small room, Twitter is more like shouting in an open plaza to a large audience.

The number of Twitter users is growing rapidly. In June last year during the Seoul mayoral election, there were about 1 million users, but the number went up to 2.5 million during the Bundang by-election in April. Now, the figure has reached around 4 million.

When there were 1 million users, the Democratic Party’s Han Myung-sook lost to the Grand National Party’s Oh Se-hoon in the mayoral race by 0.6 percentage points. When there were 2.5 million users, the DP’s Sohn Hak-kyu beat the GNP’s Kang Jae-sup by 2.7 percentage points in the Bundang legislative by-election. Now there are 4 million estimated users, and Park beat Na by 7.2 percentage points. The trend is obvious.

The more people use Twitter, the more the GNP has to worry.

Most smartphone users in Korea use Twitter. Smartphones are largely used by those in their 20s, 30s and 40s. In a July survey, consumers in their 40s are the largest buyers of smartphones.

The election outcome showed that voters in their 20s, 30s and 40s supported Park. While 66.8 percent of voters in their 40s backed Park, the number dropped to 43.1 percent among voters in their 50s.

Of Apple iPhone users, 75.6 percent live in the capital region. Outside the capital area, 4.9 percent live in the Jeolla region, 6.1 percent in Chungcheong and 4.9 percent in Daegu and North Gyeongsang. The GNP fielded eight candidates in by-elections of district heads, and won all of them. That is directly related to the low numbers of smartphone users in those areas. The higher the smartphone use, the more the GNP has to worry.

But that doesn’t mean that the GNP has no future. After Republicans in the U.S. lost the presidential election to the Democratic Party’s Barack Obama, who ran a campaign using social network services, the Republicans built a quick reaction Twitter team. Recently, the number of Twitter followers for the Republican Party doubled those following the Democrats. Technology is nothing more than a tool to be used.

*The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Oh Byung-sang
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