The social media campaign battlefield ahead of the Spanish election

From memes and followers to targeting Gen Z, how do politicians campaign on the internet?

A tweet by @PSOE celebrating International Dog Day with a meme about PM Pedro Sánchez
A tweet by @PSOE celebrating International Dog Day with a meme about PM Pedro Sánchez / Gerard Escaich
Emma Monrós Rosell

Emma Monrós Rosell | @emmamonros | Barcelona

July 21, 2023 02:37 PM

In 1960, Richard Nixon lost the US presidential election to John F. Kennedy because he seemed nervous, insecure, and sweaty during the first televised debate. Those who watched the debate on TV instead of listening to it on the radio thought that Kennedy had done a better job with his interventions and therefore voted for him. 

For better or for worse, politicians now have other tools and platforms other than TV to get through to voters. Their new frenemy is social media

The electoral campaign began on July 7, two weeks ahead of the general election on July 23. Still, politicians were campaigning much before that, taking to the internet to promote themselves and generate engagement with their supporters. 

On July 2, the left-wing party Sumar posted a video on their TikTok account filled with some of the internet's most memorable cat memes voting, which garnered 165k views and 16k likes. It obviously became a topic of discussion on TikTok's comment section as well as on Twitter. 

Sumar's community manager has been delighting their TikTok followers with more cats and memes in the days building up to the election. All that is left to see is what will the cats do after Sunday. 

Although Sumar has 50,000 followers on TikTok and more than 800,000 likes, the Spanish party with the most followers on the platform is the far-right Vox

With more than 250,000 followers on TikTok and 680,000 on Instagram, Vox's account posts various speeches of leader Santiago Abascal as well as epic videos criticizing Pedro Sánchez's government, LGBTQ+ movements, or denying climate change.

Pedro Sánchez: taking on a new approach

Another action that lit up social media, or at least its Gen Z users, was when Primer Minister and Socialist candidate Pedro Sánchez replied to an invite from one of Spain's most streamed podcasts to join them in their season finale. 

On Sunday July 16, 'La Pija y la Quinqui', a popular podcast among young people, published an episode called "MR. HANDSOME" interviewing Pedro Sánchez while drinking wine and beer, the presenters' usual setup. 

"Mr. Handsome" is also the name of a popular Twitter stan and meme account focused on the Prime Minister, as Sánchez has been called  handsome on social media before. 

This account tweets videos and images of Pedro Sánchez's speeches or interactions with other international leaders with a tone of humor. 

The Socialists have also reclaimed what was initially an insult against Sáncehz and turned it into a meme: "Perro (dog) Sánchez" was something the right used to make fun of him, but the PM and his party turned it into what has become one of the most commented-on memes of the election campaign.

The Internet also gives room for criticizing

While Pedro Sánchez has been receiving lots of comments for his great looks on social media, not every politician has had such good engagement on the internet. 

During the coverage of the election campaign, Catalan online media publication Nació Digital interviewed every candidate for the Barcelona constituency by doing their, now famous, "El Test." Those tests included basic questions such as the price of rent in Barcelona, the youth unemployment rate, or which train line goes through a certain part of the Catalan territory. 

As some politicians failed to know the answers to those questions, Twitter users started to criticize their lack of knowledge of what people considered to be "basic knowledge for someone who pretends to represent the Catalan citizens." 

Is social media really relevant for campaigns?

In general, left-wing parties are the ones who have been more active on social media to win the votes of Gen Z and younger audiences. Or, at least they are the ones that have stood out with their actions and internet campaigns, compared to the right-wing parties.

But it seems that such promotion is not necessary for far-right Vox, the party with the largest audience and whose following is the biggest on almost every app.

Some may say that politicians have been the first influencers, but now they are just changing their platforms. 

Although followers can be a good indicator of how the different parties are working on their campaigns, citizens might ask for something more than 280 character propositions for the country.

This July 23, politicians will need something more valuable than likes to earn their place in Congress: votes.