Friday, May 01, 2009

New media vs old media in STV referendum

There's an interesting subtext to BC's referendum on the current system of electing MLAs.

The government decided that in order to be fair, they'd give each side of the debate - those in favour of changing the current system to one using a single transferable vote (STV) and those against changing from the current First Past The Post system.

bcstv.jpgEach side received $500,000 in funding. The Yes side (disclosure - I'm in support of STV - I've even got a lawn sign) has used a lot of its money in building a website, organizing people on the ground, holding local meetings, recruiting and training volunteers, printing pamphlets and lawnsigns and generally employing "people power" to get the word out. Social media also figures prominently, through their website, email updates, twitter posts, YouTube and on Facebook (There are over 100 groups, most Yes, but some No.)

The No side decided not to organize at a local level, choosing to spend almost all of it's money on TV and radio ads, as well as a website. Here's their rationale, according to No-STV President Bill Tieleman. He wrote this in a letter to a No supporter who wondered why there was no local presence in the campaign:
The Yes STV side has a great many volunteers organized for the past several years through Fair Voting BC. No STV has approached the referendum completely differently and is putting almost all resources into television, radio and print advertising - TV starts today. We do not have lawn signs and you will not see any this campaign unless individuals make their own, which would be great. But the Yes STV side has spent an awful lot of their money on leaflets, signs, offices, staff, etc., more than half of their $500,000 government funding. We believe we can reach far more people through advertising and our website.
The No side doesn't seem to be making much use of social media, although individuals are starting to do it. But in some ways, their reliance on mainstream media ads makes for an interesting comparison to the Yes side, which is putting a lot of faith in brining its supporters together using new media, on the Barack Obama model.

Of course, there's a lot more to any campaign than just the ads. But it's interesting to note that the No side of the debate seems to consist entirely of talking about how the BCSTV proposal is a bad one. "We are in favour of reform, just not this version," is their standard statement. I have yet to hear anyone defend the current system. The last 12 days are going to be interesting.

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