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Facebook Predicts the Outcome of Macedonian Presidential Elections, Again?

The proportion of ‘likes’ on the official Facebook pages for Macedonian presidential candidates has turned out to be surprisingly similar to their proportion of the official vote count – both in the 2009 elections and in the 2014 presidential elections.

One day after the first round of the 2014 presidential elections, human rights expert and activist Zarko Trajanoski in a Facebook post [mk] found an interesting correlation when comparing ‘likes’ on the official Facebook pages of leading candidates Gjorge Ivanov and Stevo Pendarovski with official results published by the State Elections Commission:

Смејте му се пак на Facebook, ама отприлика ги погоди резултатите:
Сооднос на лајкови на Facebook: 
Иванов (94.295) : Пендаровски (67.222) = 1 : 1.403
Сооднос на гласови во прв круг: 
Иванов (449.068) : Пендаровски (326.133) = 1 : 1.377

You can ridicule Facebook, but it managed to guess the approximate results:

Ratio of Facebook Likes:
Ivanov (94,295) : Pendarovski (67,222) = 1 : 1.403

Ratio of votes during the first round of the elections:
Ivanov (449,068) : Pendarovski (326,133) = 1 : 1.377

In 2009, research [mk, pdf] published by the Metamorphosis Foundation on social media during elections that year first revealed a surprisingly strong correlation between each candidate's support on Facebook and the number of the actual votes they gained in both rounds of the elections (note: the research team included the author of this post).

The total number of Facebook users who expressed their support for a presidential candidate taken into account was 7,958, or 0.39% of the population. This is less than the 0.98% of the U.S. population who were documented as having expressed their support for either Obama or McCain via Facebook in 2008, but still comparable taking into account the structural and population differences of the two countries.

During the first round of elections, when seven candidates competed, the percentages for the two top-scoring candidates differed by only around 1% from the actual votes they gained. The percentages and the rankings for the other candidates showed a higher degree of discrepancy between Facebook and the polls – up to 6%, especially for the candidates who won smaller percentages of votes and whose main constituencies most probably do not use new technologies in the same degree as the general population (see figure [1]).

Figure 1: Graphic comparison of the support received via Facebook before the first round of voting (blue) and the votes won on 22 March 2009 (pink). Image from the 'Social Media Usage by Candidates for the 2009 Election' report by Metamorphosis Foundation, used with permission.

Figure 1: Graphic comparison of the support received via Facebook before the first round of voting (blue) and the votes won on 22 March 2009 (pink). Image from the ‘Social Media Usage by Candidates for the 2009 Election’ report by Metamorphosis Foundation, used with permission. 

During the second round of elections only two candidates competed, and the final outcome was predicted with an accuracy of less than 1% difference to the actual results. The winner, George Ivanov, won 62.48% of support on Facebook, and 63.14% of the actual votes. His opponent, Ljubomir Danailov-Frchkoski, won 37.52% of the Facebook support and 36.86% of the actual votes (Figure [2]).

Graphs enabling comparisons between the level of support on Facebook before the second round of the elections and votes won during that round.

Figure 2: Graphs comparing the level of support on Facebook before the second round of the elections and votes won during that round. Image from the ‘Social Media Usage by Candidates for the 2009 Election’ report by Metamorphosis Foundation, used with permission.

The results of the monitoring during the 2009 presidential elections pointed that besides generating support, social media can be used as a fairly accurate tool for market research once a critical mass of users has been reached.

Considering that the same political influences that might bribe or coerce voters to vote, something that has been known to happen in Macedonia, also directly influence their social media behavior, this phenomenon can be taken as more proof of the notion that social media reflect and permeate society at large. A novelty in 2014 was political personalities' use of Facebook advertisements, especially those with larger financial resources. This trend was first seen during 2013, but intensified substantially in the run-up to elections.

Electoral fraud?

The election observation mission by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) stated that the first round of the 2014 elections was conducted “efficiently” and predominantly peacefully. However, the opposition has accused the government of foul play, and preliminary election monitoring reports by the civil society groups Civil and MOST have highlighted a number of alleged irregularities.

Social media users focused on questions that they could verify on their own – for example, the practice of marking voters’ thumbs with ink designed to last 24 hours to prevent any person from voting more than once. After voting, users including @RedRadish5 posted before and after ‘selfie’ photos of their thumbs to show that the ink could be easily rubbed off with a wet tissue or alcohol. During the 2009 elections voters were sprayed with seemingly more permanent invisible ink that was detectable under UV-light.

@razvigor @FokusMK Checked. And [rubbed off] with rakia [brandy] half an hour after voting #избори2014 [#elections2014] #изборимк [#electionsmk]pic.twitter.com/MDZeCZC91G

— Red Radish (@RedRadish5) April 13, 2014

@razvigor @FokusMK and after pic.twitter.com/C2EBKdbm3T

— Red Radish (@RedRadish5) April 13, 2014

In a statement, ODIHR noted that “fundamental freedoms were respected and candidates were able to campaign freely [...] although biased and unbalanced media coverage and a blurring of state and party activities created an unbalanced playing field.”

Despite the large number of media outlets, many stakeholders with whom the observers met alleged there is indirect control over the media by the ruling party, through the government’s dominance in the advertising market. There was a lack of political analysis and independent reporting, and the public broadcaster failed to provide balanced coverage.

The incumbent enjoyed a significant advantage in financial resources and predominance in paid advertising. The government’s clear support of the incumbent during the campaign did not fully respect the separation of political parties and the state.

The second round of the presidential elections is scheduled for April 27, and will coincide with the early parliamentary elections.

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