From billboards to online world: The case of 2019 General Election Campaign in Thailand
Updated: Mar 20, 2019
During the current 2019 General Election Campaign in Thailand, candidates and political parties are doing their best to compete on their image and policies. Whether they are new faces or new generation of candidates, incumbents, existing or new political parties, all of them make use of different channels of election campaign communication to extend their reach to as many voters as possible, within the budget they have and within the election campaign rule that they have to obey. This article set out to briefly analyse and evaluate to the basic strategy and adaptation that candidates of the 2019 General Election in Thailand had taken to establish and develop their digital vote-canvassing network from the traditional way of introducing themselves on billboards and brochures to their social media pages. This article argues that even though candidates’ social media information shown on candidates’ billboard or brochure has been another basic information and common way to connect voters to candidates’ social media page, there is no guarantee that such attempt will expand candidates’ digital vote-canvassing network, which raises the question on the extent to which such candidates’ social media information shown on billboards have been an effective way to develop candidate’s digital vote-canvassing network.
The general definition of “campaigns” is “fundamentally about contacting voters, communicating with them, trying to persuade them to vote a certain way, and getting those voters to the polls” (Towner and Dulio, 2012, p.96) and one could say that online communication technology have generally made it easier to achieve these objectives. In other words, social media such as Facebook and Twitter has been a potential channel of election campaign communication for candidates to establish and develop their own “digital vote-canvassing network” to spread and amplify their policies and political opinion in the online world (Mukda, 2018a). Ross et al (2009) suggest that “liking” is “a form of low commitment to the group of some degree of social network ties, albeit loose ones” (cited in Sinpeng, 2017, p.265). To imply this, followers of candidates on social media might or might not be voters of the election or voters of the specific district that candidates are campaign for, but followers are somehow “interested” in connecting to candidate’s digital vote-canvassing network, which they might be swing voters of the election, who might actively or passively consume the campaign content on social media.
Similarly to the 2013 Bangkok Gubernatorial Election campaign (Mukda, 2018b), the traditional method of election campaign continues to exist during the current 2019 General Election Campaign in Thailand. The different tactics that candidates use in a Thai election campaign include the issuing of name cards or calendars that contain the candidate’s photograph, brochures that contain the candidate’s policies and slogans, billboards showing the candidate, distribution of cassette tape recordings of campaign speeches and door-to-door campaigning (Surin and McCargo, 1997, p.137). Cassette tape recordings of campaigns speech have been very much extinct and have been replaced by video recording broadcast live on candidate’s social media page and stored on candidate’s social media pages, which followers can replay whenever they want to do so. While the other tactics have been adapted and designed to catch more voter’s attention and linked with new channel of communication such as candidate’s social media page.
To make a social media user’s connect to candidate’s digital vote-canvassing network, the user needs to have the social media page name, a link or a QR code to follow the candidate and add the candidate as a “friend”. During the current 2019 General Election Campaign in Thailand, the design of candidates’ billboards and brochures had included the link to candidate’s social media page, whether it is candidate’s page name for Facebook and Twitter, QR code for Line or website of the political party. The design and overall information placed on candidate’s billboards and brochures usually incorporates with the design and information on their info-graphic, photographs and Facebook cover page in order to recognize the candidates and political party. However, connecting to candidate’s social media platform allows voters to gain more detail information about candidate’s policies, know candidate’s upcoming schedule on the election campaign, able to express their opinion on candidate’s campaign and also able to view other followers’ opinion on candidate’s campaign. Thus, candidate’s billboards displayed along the roadside and candidate’s brochures distributed to voters’ hands had played a role in introducing the candidate, political party policies as well as connecting voters to candidate’s social media page and receive campaign content directly from the candidate, enabling voters’ to know more about the candidate’s campaign throughout the election campaign.
This article argues there is no guarantee that the basic strategy and adaptation that candidates of the 2019 General Election in Thailand had taken to establish and develop their digital vote-canvassing network from the traditional way of introducing themselves on billboards and brochures to their social media pages have been effectively in expanding candidates’ digital vote-canvassing network. The coexistence between old channel of election campaign integrated on new channel of election campaign on social media had definitely modernised the Thai political culture of election campaign and might connect voters of the election to candidate’s social media page in one way or another. However, to establish such connection is a challenge when the election constitutes of loyalty voters, swing voters or first time voters, and candidates and political parties having different image, policies and political opinion that they attempted to influence and improve the standard of living of the voters, at the very least. Thus, to give voters a chance to know more about the candidate through social media or to make candidate’s campaign become part of voters’ “online world”, is a challenging task and a fundamental task for candidates to establish and develop their digital vote canvassing network. Voters might walk pass the candidates’ billboards every now and then or even every day, but their attention given to candidates’ social media information on billboards might be limited.
Mukda Pratheepwatanawong. (2018a). “As if it was something spoken by a friend”: Digital vote-canvassing networks on Facebook during the 2013 Bangkok Gubernatorial Election Campaign. The Indonesian Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 2(1), 91–118.
Mukda Pratheepwatanawong. (2018b). Uses of social networking sites as a development of political communication and election campaigns in Thailand. In M. Meyer & Z. Tingshu (Eds.), Multicultural ASEAN: Diversity in identity, language, memory and media (pp. 65–90). Bangkok: Multicultural ASEAN Center Project, Research Insitute for Languages and Cultures of Asia, Mahodol University.
Sinpeng, A. (2017). Participatory ineqality in online and offline political engagement in Thailand. Pacific Affairs, 90(2), 253–274.
Surin Maisrikrod, & Duncan McCargo. (1997). Electoral politics: commercialisation and exclusion. In Political change in Thailand: democracy and participation (pp. 132–148). London: Routledge.
Towner, T. L., & Dulio, D. A. (2012). New Media and Political Marketing in the United States: 2012 and Beyond. Journal of Political Marketing, 11(1–2), 95–119.