Does social media reveal a ‘silent liberal majority’?

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The media often projects the consensus that the majority of the population hold conservative viewpoints. For instance, it’s generally agreed that a majority of the UK population support capital punishment. When that does not prove to be true in practice the terms ‘silent majority’ or ‘moral majority’ are used to imply that for various reasons that majority is not heard.

Today a major debate was sparked about capital punishment in the UK. It is a manufactured debate, arising from the re-launch of the UK government’s e-petition scheme. A well known UK political blogger started a petition to bring back capital punishment and, with the support of right wing parts of the media, claimed he had or would soon have the 100,000 signatures needed to gain a parliamentary debate on the subject. This has proven to be untrue. Signatories are not supporting the petition at anywhere near the expected rate. In fact, the opposing petition has, at the time of writing, approximately twice as many signatories.

I think this surprise outcome is largely due to social media.

Twice now, first with the News International phone hacking case and now with the capital punishment debate, I have observed through searches and hashtags that a vast majority of Twitter users were in support of the liberal perspective in both cases. While both conservative and liberal supporters use social media, their effect seems to be to amplify the liberal argument far more strongly than the conservative one.

Why would this be? I think it is possible that social media empowers a ‘silent liberal majority’. People who do not engage with traditional media and traditional politics because they do not feel it can change anything. They likely hold very strong political ideals, but feel there is no way to really act on those ideals in the real world. In my experience the number of people who feel this way is very great, but their viewpoint is not often expressed in our political dialectic. Twitter and other social media allow that liberal majority to make themselves heard easily and , more importantly, effectively. Social media then brings a large section of the population back in to the political system who have gone unheard for a long time. If this is true, then UK politics is about to take a major step to the left.