Ever since Barack Obama came to the US Pres­i­dency on the back of a grass­roots cam­paign, a good pro­por­tion of which was acti­vated via a thor­ough and well-​​executed social media cam­paign, var­i­ous pun­dits have been breath­lessly pre­dict­ing that, in Aus­tralia, the elec­tion cam­paign cur­rently under­way would be the social media elec­tion.

Not least of all, I’ve been known to express the view that if social media could have an effect in an Aus­tralian elec­tion, it could be sig­nif­i­cant. After all, with over 9 mil­lion Aus­tralians using Face­book, and some­where north of 1.1 mil­lion of us on Twit­ter (via ABC), social media is cer­tainly main­stream in this country.

But it’s just not going to hap­pen. At least not this time around.

I think there are three parts to the rea­son why.

First, despite the main­stream media mer­rily jump­ing in and run­ning polls and track­ers like the ABC’s Cam­paign Pulse, and parts of the ad, PR and dig­i­tal indus­try run­ning sites focussed keenly on social media activ­ity around the elec­tion such as Amne­sia Razorfish’s The Social Elec­tion and Buz­zNum­bers’ Buzz­Elec­tion, the voter acti­va­tion by social media phe­nom­e­non is just not hap­pen­ing. These sites, despite all the truly fas­ci­nat­ing infor­ma­tion they are sur­fac­ing up are, for this elec­tion, all very much a part of the mas­sive echo cham­ber that is a self-​​absorbed hybrid of the social media gurus (some­thing I have been accused more than once of being a part — hap­pily accepted) and, as Jeff Waugh puts it so elo­quently the politico-​​tragic-​​media-​​wonk-​​o-​​sphere™ (also some­thing I am gladly a part of).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love all this stuff. I think the effort that has gone into all this track­ing, mon­i­tor­ing and analy­sis is laud­able. And I’m cer­tainly watch­ing it all and tak­ing it all in. But I’m self-​​admittedly not your aver­age voter.

I am yet to see any voter out­side this hybrid cir­cle have their polit­i­cal opin­ion swayed through social media. This isn’t tip­ping point stuff. The con­nec­tors, mavens and sales­men using social media aren’t con­nect­ing, maven­ing (is that a word?) and sell­ing the vote-​​changing mes­sage. The aver­age punter is still rely­ing on the tabloids, com­mer­cial radio and main­stream evening news and cur­rent affairs for their polit­i­cal infor­ma­tion. If social media was hav­ing a real effect in this coun­try on the level of polit­i­cal debate, the argu­ment over mat­ters like the Inter­net fil­ter would be done and dusted; we’ve been rant­ing for three years about it and there’s still wide­spread com­mu­nity ignorance.

Sec­ond, politi­cians aren’t really using social media effec­tively. There are a few well-​​known exam­ples that have taken the time and effort to reach out and con­nect online (and offline, let it be said) with their con­stituen­cies, but for most politi­cians social tools are still new, some­what mis­un­der­stood and not espe­cially well utilised. Our Prime Min­is­ter, after all, has only been on Twit­ter a month (I don’t, by the way, expect her to do all her own tweet­ing, she has other pri­or­i­ties, even beyond the election).

Most politi­cians (and their party machin­ery and peo­ple), even if they are using social tools, aren’t espe­cially effec­tive. The mes­sage remains mostly broad­cast, dis­con­nected from the social media using con­stituency. It’s not sur­pris­ing in this instance that vot­ers aren’t relat­ing to them and con­nect­ing to their issues. Do we all want to move for­ward with Julia on Twit­ter? I don’t think so.

Third, as a vot­ing nation, we’re more than a lit­tle dif­fer­ent to the USA. I’m no polit­i­cal sci­en­tist, but to my ama­teur (albeit politico-​​tragic-​​media-​​wonk) eyes, the Aus­tralian elec­torate is notice­ably more dis­con­nected from polit­i­cal issues in a vote-​​changing way than our friends in coun­tries with­out com­pul­sory suf­frage. Here, for the vast major­ity of the elec­torate, it’s pay­ing the mort­gage and car loan, buy­ing gro­ceries and pay­ing school fees that mat­ters. Beyond that, it’s the race-​​to-​​the-​​bottom issues of leaky bor­ders invaded by leaky boats and the reduc­tion of tax that we care about. Big-​​picture, informed polit­i­cal view isn’t some­thing that you’d ascribe to the major­ity of the population.

Yes, social media is see­ing mas­sive growth in this coun­try. Yes, it is impor­tant in many people’s lives (includ­ing peo­ple that are very main­stream). But social media, as an influ­ence on the aver­age voter isn’t yet a major player in this coun­try. For that to be the case, we need to see a wide­spread matur­ing of social media use at the polit­i­cal level and a con­comi­tant rise in depth of inter­est in pol­i­tics amongst the wider population.