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.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

3 thoughts on “Does social media reveal a ‘silent liberal majority’?

  1. A vast majority of Twitter users were in support of AV too and we know how that turned out. I’m glad Dale’s stunt seems to be failing and, even if there was a debate, MPs wouldn’t re-introduce it but the reason it is “generally agreed that a majority of the UK population support capital punishment” is because that is what the actual polling has consistently revealed.


  2. It might simply be that people towards the left of the political spectrum are more social media savvy than those on the right. People on the left tend to be younger, for starters, and social media use is higher among younger demographics.Though of course, it is also possible that there the so-called silent majority is shifting towards the left, which would be a very good thing.

    I hadn’t heard about this “reintroduce capital punishment” initiative, but then I’m not in the UK. Polls in non-capital punishment countries quite often reveal a majority in favour of reintroducing capital punishment. However, these polls are often conducted after particularly grisly murders, often child killings. And it is easy to ask manipulative questions, e.g. “In the wake of the grisly murder of a child, do you think we should reintroduce capital punishment?”, which will get you a far higher quota of affirmative answers. Besides, horrible crimes and child victims are often exploited to push a far right political agenda. In my country, we are currently having the umpteenth reedition of the debate (sparked by a kidnapping case) if torture is acceptable, when the life of a child is in danger. And if you’re one of those people who believe, “No, torture is never acceptable under any circumstances”, you’ll get a lot of hate from otherwise nice, left-of-centre people. People are easy to manipulate and the right knows how to do that.

    Never mind that this “reintroduce capital punishment in the UK” scheme would never pass, because by reintroducing capital punishment the UK would kick itself out of the EU and the Council of Europe and would be as isolated in Europe as countries like Belarus.



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