Regional elections in the Netherlands – using technology to connect with voters

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The Dutch Greens – innovative ideas to engage with younger voters

This article was written following an interview with Truuske Smits, campaign manager for the North Brabant Greens in the recent regional elections.

The Netherlands went to the polls for local elections in February 2011. Nationally, the Dutch Greens (GroenLinks) increased their vote by 0.2%, but in the region of North Brabant (pop. 2.4m) their vote increased by 1.8%.
The campaign manager for the region, Truuske Smits, credited this increase with using innovative campaigning to raise the profile of the Party and increase interaction with younger voters. While some of the tactics they adopted cost money, other ideas can be adopted by other campaigns with little or no cost.

We’ve heard about 3D movies such as Avatar, and while you may have conflicting views on their cinematic merits, did you know that they can be used in political campaigns? The North Brabant Greens adopted this during the election, producing 3D posters and even a short 3D film.
These were something of a gimmick, and they succeeded in getting extra media attention for the Party during the campaign. However, there was a serious side to it.
By giving viewers two types of 3D glasses, they could see competing visions offered by the Greens and by their opponents. Publicising this involved a 3D tour, where the videos and posters were displayed and voters were given 3D glasses so that they could get the full effect.
It was what Green campaigns are best at – being creative and innovative, which brings in younger voters and attracts media attention, but with a serious message beneath that. Having such an innovative tool also helped increase moral in the campaign, which was an important factor in their success.
The total budget for this project was €10,000, out of a total campaign budget of €30,000. However, they felt that it was more than worth the investment.

Social Media was also important in the success of GroenLinks in the North Brabant region. What was crucial for the Greens was making the decision to fully commit to social media. They believed that engaging in social media in a half hearted way would win few votes, and indeed such a weak effort could actually turn off young voters!
The North Brabant Greens established Facebook and Twitter accounts, which they kept regularly updated. Smits believed that the best interaction on social media was the personal kind. The personal twitter account of their lead candidate got the most followers, and every question that a member of the public had was answered directly. This ensured that their social media was interactive and built up loyalty with voters. It was also useful for journalists, who were able to follow the campaign easily on twitter.

The campaign also advertised on Facebook, Google and the Dutch version of Facebook ( Since young voters tend not to read the regional newspapers, this proved to be a worthwhile investment for the campaign and ensured that this key demographic group was connected to the Green campaign. Online advertising is especially useful when your opponents have not yet discovered its benefits!

Time and money was also invested in a smart phone application (app). The app allowed people to ask questions and get a specific response, and also contained short videos. While few serious questions were received, the app got a lot of media attention and showed that the Greens were at the cutting edge of technology.
The costs of this were reduced by crowd sourcing, and the campaign was surprised by the number of people who offered to do programming on a volunteer basis. Many of these people were reluctant to engage in the more traditional forms of campaigning such as canvassing, so it was a great way to increase the number of people involved in the campaign. As a result, the programming of the app was done for free. The videos cost €3,500 to produce however.

The day before the election had an event that combined social media and face-to-face campaigning. At a major station train, the Green campaign team set up an operation where they gave free coffee to voters who came to them with questions about the election. The coffee was donated by a restaurant in the station, and the event was broadcast, and questions were received, online. This got a great reaction because it showed how open the Greens were to interacting with voters using all forms of communication available.

What was most important in using social media was ensuring that enough time was set aside for it during the campaign, and that it was sufficiently planned out. Without proper planning, social media can become a campaign liability.

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