Notwithstanding criticisms that come their way, news television is now clearly at the forefront of shaping voter attitudes

For all the emphasis, and attention, on how the social media and new platforms can affect electoral outcomes, only 5 per cent of India’s voters go online every day to access news. In contrast, with 42 per cent voters accessing television every day, TV is, by far, the most preferred medium for information on news and current affairs.

These are some of the key findings of the CNN-IBN-The Hindu Election Tracker Survey, conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). The survey was based on interviews with close to 20,000 respondents spread across 267 constituencies in 18 States.

The results will provide fodder for thought to political parties, which are involved in framing their media strategies for the next elections.

News TV at forefront

While 42 per cent watched TV news daily, 29 per cent respondents said they read newspapers every day. Twelve per cent listened to radio, while 5 per cent accessed the Internet. Sixty-six per cent of those interviewed said they never went online for news, while 44 per cent did not use radio for news at all.

Notwithstanding the criticisms that come their way, news television is now clearly at the forefront of shaping voter attitudes.

Sixty per cent of voters have moderate-to-high media exposure. This was based on an index, which measured how regularly voters accessed the four mediums, radio, Internet, TV and print. North Indian States, according to the survey, had the highest exposure to different media forms, while east India ranked the lowest.

Limited social media

According to the survey, 9 per cent of India’s households have a computer or a laptop. This corresponds with the findings of the 2011 Census, which had shown 9.5 per cent computer ownership in the country — of which 6.4 per cent had no Internet connection. Only 1 per cent of rural households and 8 per cent of urban households have computers with an online connection.

Only 10 per cent of the CSDS survey respondents had an email or Facebook account, and only 4 per cent had a Twitter account. These figures are, unsurprisingly, higher in big cities — where 29 per cent and 25 per cent respondents have email and Facebook accounts respectively — and shrink as the size of cities decreases, and the age-group of respondents increases.

Even among those social media-savvy users though, only 27 per cent open their Facebook accounts daily while 24 per cent check their Twitter timeline every day.

Politics and new media

In recent weeks, both Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have invested time and energy in discussing social media wars, particular strategies for political battles on Twitter. A study in April, first reported by The Hindu, claimed that Facebook users could swing the results in 160 constituencies.

But the CSDS survey shows that the number of active users of the medium is a minuscule portion of the electorate, to the point of being marginal. In Hindi-speaking States, which elect a large section of Lok Sabha members, only 10 per cent voters have an email, 12 per cent are on Facebook, and 6 per cent on Twitter.

But in this relatively limited constituency, as has been increasingly apparent, the BJP has an edge. Thirty-seven per cent of the respondents who use new media said they would vote for the BJP, while 26 per cent preferred the Congress. A significant 37 per cent were voters of other parties.

Responding to the findings, author and media analyst Paranjoy Guha Thakurta said, “This confirms that it is premature to say that social media users will have a significant impact on electoral outcome.”

In a recent piece, Minister of State for Human Resource Development and an early user of the social media Shashi Tharoor noted that India’s political issues are being ‘raised and debated regularly — boisterously — across the social media.’ But he added, “I do not believe, given the numbers, that any Indian election can be won and lost on social media alone.” He noted that unlike the U.S., Twitter would be ‘useless’ in organising a mass rally. But social media could, Mr. Tharoor wrote, ‘help set the agenda of public debate,’ because traditional media tapped into social networks for information about and from politicians.

This report has been corrected for a factual error