Yesterday Facebook celebrated its fifth birthday. The social networking tool allows people with similar interests to join groups that reflect those interests, and, of course, in many cases these interests are political. There are groups, official or unofficial, that represent all of Northern Ireland's main political parties on Facebook.
The membership of these groups differs widely, though, and they show a picture of the support amongst young people (Facebook's most usual demographic) for the parties that is although far from scientific, interesting nonetheless.
Yesterday, on Facebook's fifth birthday, the membership of the groups was:
- Sinn Féin – 2259
- Ógra Shinn Féin – 419
- Republican Sinn Féin – 373
- Greens in NI – 291
- DUP – 122
- UUP – 92
- SDLP – 76
- SDLP Youth – 65
- Alliance Party – 61
- Queens University DUA – 38
- TUV – 2
It seems that the Young Unionists have no group on Facebook. Although Queens University DUA does not represent all of the DUP Jugend it is a sort of youth wing of the party. The list excludes branch groups, or apparent mirror groups – it shows the membership only of the principal groups for each party.
The overall picture is a stark one. Amongst young people it seems that Sinn Féin is far and away the most popular party. In fact, with 80% of the total, republican parties are the outright winners, with the Greens unsurprisingly following. The entire unionist support (7% of the total) is less than that of the Greens.
Many people are members of several groups, which inflates their apparent support. But this works equally or unionist groups as for nationalist groups.
The low level of support on Facebook for the SDLP, the unionist parties, and especially the TUV, may reflect the age profile of those parties' supporters. Bu today's Facebook supporters are tomorrow's voters, so these parties should start to worry.