Politics and gender in online spaces: Dutch election dispatch

by Dr. Ritumbra Manuvie and Drs. M. v. Dorssen

In 2021 Dutch election Corona-virus regulations have severely limited the capacity of political parties to communicate with their voters through traditional voting  campaigns. Majority of the parties are relying heavily on social media to put out their messages. Top parties VVD, PVV, SP, D66, PvDA, CDA and Groen Links are regularly appearing on mainstream News debate, and smaller parties like CU, SGP, PvDd, FvD have been limited to their social media presence for putting their message out. In this blog piece we compare how these parties and their candidates appear on Facebook, we give special focus to the presence of female candidates who mostly represented the left and centre-left parties in Dutch elections.

In the run-up to the elections, we manually collected the social media handles of the political parties and the candidates. There were 825 total candidates from 28 parties contesting the elections this year. We narrowed our party list to 18 parties which had a considerable presence on social media and categorised them in broad ideological spectrum, from far-right to left, based on their election agenda. These 18 parties pitched 710 candidates for election of which 642 candidates had some form of presence on either twitter or Facebook. Twitter was seemingly a more popular platform for most parties and their candidates.

Centre right parties like VVD, CDA and CU and Left parties like GroenLinks, SP, PvDA, PvDD, Bij1 and VSN also had a considerably large number of candidates and social media presence.

On Facebook the followers for the Dutch political parties till 17th March 2021 was about 1 million and that of all the Dutch candidates whose profiles are publicly available on Facebook the following was only about 1.73 million . Within this limited following one can see the following of far-right parties  and their candidates like FvD and Geert Wilders is much higher than that of  moderate political parties and candidates. We also see that female political leaders and parties led by them has far less share of followers on Facebook as compared to their male counterparts.

In the list of publicly available pages 79 pages belonged to men and women candidates had 52 pages. Using CrowdTangle we also grouped female and male candidates across parties and compared their posting behaviour over last 24 months from 17th March 2019 to 17th March 2021.

Accommodating for the existing parity in numbers between the total number of females and the total number of male candidates, the female candidates posted 0.9 times the male candidates. Female candidates posted lesser number of total video messages then the male candidates. However, the amount of interaction received on the post of female candidates was far lesser then the amount of interaction on the posts of the male candidates.

Within this interaction, we noticed that the positive interactions (love and like) received by the female candidates was higher, while the percent of negative interaction (Anger and Wow) received by male candidates was higher when compared to female candidates.

We believe this parity was because of fear-invoking and shock-invoking messaging of the male candidates, especially the far-right male candidates who had considerably large following and therefore interactions across Facebook. In the next edition to this blog we will consider the political messaging of the key candidates.