The news stories that made Dutch voters click

The news stories that made Dutch voters click

Pim te Bokkel May 2019

Pro-European parties have won the European elections in the Netherlands, with labour party PvdA and Frans Timmermans emerging as the unexpected winner.

Before and after the European elections, our team of media-analysts analysed which news articles received the highest levels of engagement on social media, to get a deeper understanding of what made Dutch voters tick.

Despite the prominence of euroscepticism in political campaigns and media coverage, social media engagement already hinted at a pro-European undercurrent.

News articles with pro-European sentiment received highest levels of engagement

In the days leading up to the election day, Dutch quality newspaper Trouw reported on its front page that the political campaigns were more negative about Europe than the voters themselves. A survey from IPSOS and VU University professor Jan Kleinnijenhuis found that voters want the European Union to solve supranational issues, including climate change, the stability of the financial system, free trade, and threats from foreign nations.

When we used a tool called Newswhip to find the Dutch news articles about the European elections with the highest engagement levels in the past month, we found that the Top 3 news articles was all but eurosceptic.

The collaboration of anti-Islam party PVV with other European Eurosceptic parties resulted in news articles with around 2,000 (2K) likes, shares or comments on Facebook and Twitter. Coverage from the eurocritical opinion website De Dagelijkse Standaard received up to 3K interactions on social media.

A longread by Dutch historian Rutger Bregman by De Correspondent, however, received 4.5K interactions, mostly on Facebook. In his essay, Bregman points out that the silent majority of Dutch citizens is pro-European, and that trust in the European Union is growing.

Coverage from the leading Dutch news website, about Frans Timmermans clearly stating that he has the ambition to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as Chairman of the European Commission, resulted in more than 6K social media interactions with the news article.

The most engaging news article, however, was about the attack from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD, pro-Europe) on Thiery Baudet, leader of the eurosceptic, national-conservative newcomer Forum voor Democratie (FvD). Coverage from RTL yielded 7.8K likes, shares or comments, and engagement levels with other news articles about this subject were also sky-high.

Social media engagement driven by identity and conflict

From a social media point of view, this shows that stories people are able to identify with reach bigger audiences. Especially when there is an element of confilct, the story gets an online boost from proponents and opponents, resulting in higher engagement levels, and more exposure from the social media algorithms, which recognize it as a popular piece of content.

Debate by right-wing parties VVD (pro-Europe) and FvD (Eurosceptic) dominated media coverage

The attack from Mr. Rutte on Mr. Baudet culminated in a debate between the two in the popular late night talkshow Pauw on Wednesday evening, the night before the Dutch went to vote. The Dutch national broadcasting organization NPO had organized two debates: one with party leaders and a second debate between Rutte and Pauw. The latter resulted in the highest television ratings and social media interactions.

From a content, character and experience point of view, Mr. Rutte won the debate, CFF’s Public Affairs Director Jan Willem Blok concluded. But with the traditionally low voter turnouts during European elections, it remained to be seen how the pro-European silent majority would make a difference: by casting a vote or by remaining silent.

Labour party PvdA won the European elections in the Netherlands

After the polling stations closed, it became clear that the voter turnout in the Netherlands came in higher than in 2014 – it was in fact the highest voter turnout for the European elections in 30 years.

Dutch labour party PvdA (S&D) emerged as the unexpected winner of the European elections in the Netherlands. Media and political commentators speak of a ‘Frans Timmermans effect’, as the ‘Spitzenkandidat’ for S&D/PvdA mobilized pro-European voters.

In the wake of the elections, a debate between right-wing parties VVD (pro-Europe) and national conservative newcomer FvD (euroscpetic) dominated the national debate about the European elections. VVD and FVD also emerged as winners, along with green party GroenLinks.

Stories about ‘spectacular’ electoral victory PvdA attract most engagement after elections

It may not come as a surprise that the surprise victory of the PvdA resulted in the highest engagement-levels on social media after the exit polls. A news story by Dutch daily De Telegraaf received 5.2K interactions within 24 hours.

That’s more than twice as much as the trending story that mocked voter turnouts from De Speld, the Dutch version of the satirical news website The Onion. De Speld reported on a girl who is still in doubt: is she not going to vote because she simply does not have the time, or because she just doesn’t want to. “There’s pros and cons to each decision,” she ponders. Over the weekend, a story about the victory from Marine Le Pen over President Macron by De Telegraaf received the highest level of social media interactions (7.7K) when it comes to election-related media coverage.

About the author: Pim te Bokkel, Head of Digital, works with CFF Communications’s media intelligence team, to make sure that their international clients are up to speed with all relevant, global media coverage.

CFF Communications is a strategic, integrated communications agency. They closely work with Grayling colleagues in Brussels and Amsterdam, and with the Citigate Dewe Rogerson offices in the major financial hubs around the world.