The French Presidential elections go digital

Feb 13, 2012
Vote on Hacker News

Ah yes, the US is not the only country with Presidential elections this year. While Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are busy battling it out for the Republicans on the other side of the Atlantic, France is also busy lining up its political contestants: François Hollande (Parti Socialiste), Marine Le Pen (Front National, YIKES!), François Bayrou (MoDem) – you can see the full list of candidates here (ignore the 2007 in the URL). Of course, President Sarkozy (UMP) has not yet announced whether or not he is running for re-election…but he has until the beginning of March to do so just announced yesterday that he will be running for reelection (shock).

Voting gets geeky.

This year, the elections seem even more digitally oriented than in previous years. Finally, we can see a majority of the candidates have a verified Twitter account (except President Sarkozy? WTF?). And while all the candidates have a Facebook fan page, François Hollande is the only candidate who has opened up his actual status updates to the general public. And while you may be wondering why none of the candidates have YouTube accounts, it’s because they’re all opting to campaign via French YouTube competitor, DailyMotion – where a majority of French internet users still turn for video content.

Le Parisien published an article discussing the digital campaign strategies of the different candidates, stating that François Hollande’s team had carefully studied President Obama’s 2008 campaign. According to the article, Hollande is the most digitally visible candidate at this point in time. Then again, he is spending roughly 10% of his budget (equivalent to €2 million) to developing his digital campaign.

And no, unfortunately none of the candidates have Foursquare or Pinterest accounts…or seem to put their homes up on Airbnb. But then again, their US counterparts don’t either. That said, I do think that they are largely sticking to very traditional platforms for digital campaigning. I was surprised to find that François Bayrou had an official iPhone application (with Foursquare-like gamification and badges!) - but a majority of the candidates have still not gone mobile. Le Front de Gauche candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has also gone mobile and is integrating gamification into his campaign strategy.

Tech topics of the debate menu.

But beyond their digital communications and campaigning strategies, there are also a few controversial tech topics on the debate menu. It’ll be difficult for candidates to escape topics like Sopa/Acta/Pipa/Hadopi, especially with all eyes on the recent MegaUpload case. I’ve mentioned before what Sopa looks like from the Eiffel Tower – and despite the fact that net neutrality, legal downloading and the likes are all important topics for the startup world, many mainstream journalists argue that they are not actually particularly important topics for the candidates – especially given Europe’s current economic climate.

Then again, if economics are taking the front seat at the debate table, I’m guessing entrepreneurship will, too.

French startups: helping you vote better since 2012.

A few interesting election-related projects have emerged from the French startup scene, namely Voxe and Facebook application AVoter.

Published by Nantes-based TuttiVox - which came out of a 2011 Startup Weekend event in France and aims to promote democracy on social networks – Avoter is a social application that allows users to compare different candidates and campaigns and cast votes. Since it’s launch in December, the application has amassed over 25,000 votes, allowing users to voice their opinions to the participating political parties as well as to the rest of the social web if they choose to do so. It’s a great alternative to some of the more traditional campaign strategies the really seeks to educate users.

But taking education one step further is Voxe.org. In a similar fashion to AVoter, Voxe uses the official campaign material of different candidates to help users make fair comparisons and judgements. The team argues that all the content is presented in a neutral fashion to help users filter through all the extra political noise, scandals, and whatnot. Once on the page, the user is prompted to select 2 candidates and can then compare their political views by subject.

Some of the originators of the project launched a similar project – Votons.info – for the 2007 Presidential Elections. But they’re seeking to take this project much further and integrate past and future elections from around the world – including US, Russia and Mexico’s 2012 elections. So far the team has funded its project entirely through French crowd funding platform Kiss Kiss Bank Bank.

Transparency, please.

Despite the fact that we still don’t know the outcome of this year’s election, the digital campaign trends and the 2 different election-oriented projects definitely point to a need for more transparency – which obviously comes as no surprise. But as candidates pour more of their resources into digital content creation and distribution, it will be interesting to watch how the social web responds to the different strategies – and to see how they compare to the digital campaign strategies used in other Presidential campaigns around the world.

For more information about some of the US Presidential digital campaign strategies, check out TechPresident (I’m yet to find a French equivalent but please point me to it if there is one).