Loyalty matters most for BJP Members of Parliament in getting renominated by the party to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. An analysis of tweets from 131 current BJP MPs, collected in February 2018, shows a correlation between loyalty to the party’s leadership on Twitter and whether or not a sitting MP was renominated for this year’s elections.
I analyse the rate at which a BJP MP retweeted the leadership in February 2018. The retweet rates of February 2018 are a good benchmark for two reasons. First, it is more than a year before the general elections. We are, therefore, not observing retweets being conveniently used to make a good impression right before the elections. Second, it was just before March 2018, when the BJP urged its members to increase their online presence and grow their number of followers. I find that loyalty to the party and its leaders, not popularity on social media, is rewarded by party leadership with renomination.
How much a BJP MP retweeted key members of the BJP is calculated as a percentage of their total number of tweets during the period for which data was collected. For example, if an MP tweeted 2000 times and retweeted party leadership 1000 times, the retweet rate for that MP is 50 per cent. Then, MPs are sorted by their retweet rates for members of BJP leadership. The key members of the BJP identified for this analysis were: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the official BJP Twitter account, BJP president Amit Shah, and cabinet members Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, and Uma Bharti.
Of the top 20 per cent of MPs who retweeted Modi, 69 per cent were renominated to contest for the Lok Sabha. In contrast, of the bottom 20 per cent of people who retweeted Modi the least, only 46 per cent were renominated. This gives us a difference in renomination rates of 23 points. This trend holds true for the other key members of the BJP. Figure 1 shows the difference in renomination rates in the BJP by the extent to which an MP retweeted key members of the cabinet, the official BJP Twitter, Modi, and Amit Shah. Being in the top retweeters of the cabinet members all combined boosted renomination rates by 30 points. Being in the top retweeters of the BJP increased renomination rates by 23 points. Being in the top retweeters of Amit Shah boosted renomination rates by 17 points.
It is possible that MPs who retweet BJP leadership are just more popular on social media and, hence, are likely to be renominated because of their popularity. Indeed, the BJP’s strategy put forth by PM Modi in March 2018 was to increase its online presence by asking each MP to reach at least 300,000 “genuine” followers on social media. This increases party engagement and allows the BJP to reach more voters, so it would be fair to hypothesise that MPs with larger followings would be more likely to be rewarded with a ticket to contest.
In reality, however, as I show in Figure 2, a large following on social media does not correlate with renomination rates. MPs who have more than 300,000 followers were as likely to be renominated (63 per cent) as those who had less than that. Of the MPs who were renominated, three-fourths had under 200,000 followers, and half had under 44,150. Those who had above 200,000 followers include cabinet members Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj, whose substantial following (12.8 million and 12.5 million, respectively) skew results upwards. These findings also contradict how we tend to think about who gets renominated by the party. If we take online presence to reflect an MP’s status in the BJP, their online status is irrelevant to get renominated.
This analysis is limited by the fact that data was only available for 131 of 266 sitting BJP MPs. It is also based on renominations as they have been announced so far, but new lists of candidates are still being released. In total, 388,629 tweets were analysed. Since some MPs in the dataset tweeted more frequently than others, the percentage of retweets for each (as opposed to the raw number) was calculated to normalise scores. Of course, the argument presented here is not causal. But if there is such a high correlation between Twitter behaviour and political outcomes, it is worth investigating more closely the relationship between social media presence and BJP mobility.
In this way, Twitter is changing the landscape of Indian elections. Members of Parliament may no longer need to be well connected to make sure they can get a ticket for the next election cycle. They may no longer need to be able to attract large crowds or even have overwhelming support in their respective constituencies.
Perhaps, they just need to retweet Modi.
Barbara is a student at UC Berkeley, majoring in Political Science.
This analysis was done using tweets collected by Anustubh Agnihotri, Samarth Bansal, and Rahul Verma.
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