Politicians’ attitudes towards social media have evolved significantly since David Cameron’s famously disparaging comments about Twitter in 2009. Social media is now widely accepted as one of the key theatres of the electoral battle, and is widely being used by politicians and aspiring candidates to build a relationship with potential voters and boost their profile.
The excellent dataset created by yournextmp.com shows how different social media platforms are being used by those seeking election to the House of Commons. Of the 3,971 candidates seeking election, 2,832 have Twitter accounts, 894 have political Facebook profiles, and 347 are active on LinkedIn. It is apparent that Twitter is generally the social media platform of choice for those seeking election to Westminster.
Social media presence is now a key part of what is called the “ground game”; the efforts made in individual constituencies to motivate voters and get them to the polls. Whereas historically these efforts were almost impossible to quantify, the rich data held by social media companies on their users has now made it possible to measure the extent to which candidates are using social media to engage with potential voters.
As a proxy for overall Twitter activity, I took the number of followers that each candidate has on Twitter (as at the 3rd of May 2015) to generate a Twitter electoral map. This can be used to see what the composition of the House of Commons would be if the candidate with the most Twitter followers was used instead of a popular vote (for the avoidance of doubt, I am not advocating this system in real life). To do this, I used the list of Twitter handles from the yournextmp.com dataset, and then used the process outlined by Sarah Marshall of the Wall Street Journal to use the Twitter API to derive the number of followers for a list of Twitter usernames on a Google Spreadsheet.
In total, the 2,832 Twitter accounts of those standing for election in the General Election have just over 10 million followers between them (10,008,125). Were all the candidates merged into one person, in terms of Twitter followers they would rank 123rd in the world, with more followers than Shaquille O’Neal (9,709,680) and NASA (9,717,731), but fewer than Kelly Clarkson (10,235,333) and Carly Rae Jepsen (10,766,210). The number of Twitter followers that Ms Jepsen has does appear to be a valid mobile phone number in Jinan, China, but maybe please don’t call it. The world number one for Twitter followers is Katy Perry, with 69,179,598.
The Top 20 parties by followers for their candidates are outlined in the following table. Labour are the most followed party, whilst Sinn Féin are the only Northern Ireland party to make the UK Top 10.
But of course, the election will be decided on the basis of 650 first past the post elections, not on the basis of who has the most popular votes. I took the Twitter followers data and evaluated who the candidate was with the most followers in each constituency. Those who enjoy stable governments may wish to avert their gaze at this point.
The largest party in the Twitter parliament is Labour, who have 248 seats. They are comfortably ahead of the Conservatives on 205. However, Labour will need to form a coalition to get to the 322 they would need for a working majority. The Liberal Democrats have 69 seats, so a LibLab pact would have 317 seats. That’s still not enough to form a majority, though, so they will need to come to sort of arrangement with one or more of the smaller parties, namely;
- UKIP (36 seats)
- Green Party (25 seats)
- SNP (24 seats)
- Sinn Féin (7 seats)
- Plaid Cymru, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, the UUP (5 seats each)
- SDLP (3 seats)
- Pirate Party (2 seats)
- Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol (CISTA), Class War, DUP, Digital Democracy, English Democrats, Lincolnshire First, Red Flag – Anti-Corruption, Something New, The Independent Political Alliance Party, Respect, TUV (1 seat each)
- Four independent MPs
The electoral map would look like this (with 2010 General Election results for a comparison):
So, whilst there is a very real possibility that this week’s General Election may be deadlocked, leading to weeks of uncertainty whilst backroom deals are thrashed out, at least the prospective Prime Minister will not have to go about the tricky task of arranging a Confidence and Supply deal with CISTA and the Pirate Party.
Whilst trying to predict the winner of parliamentary constituencies by the number of Twitter followers is self-evidently a rather silly task, the effects of social media activity are sure to be analyzed over the next electoral cycle to see if an active presence in this area can provide an electoral boost.
For example, the candidate with the fifth largest Twitter following is 19 year old Labour PPC for South West Wiltshire George Aylett, who has 229,098 followers. Whilst this is a very safe Conservative seat (the Tories polled 51.7% in 2010, with the Lib Dems on 30.5% and Labour on 11.5%), were Labour to poll significantly more than this on Thursday it could demonstrate that a widely followed social media presence can convert to votes.
Whilst in isolation Twitter has obvious flaws as a device for prediction elections, social media is evolving and more of the “ground game” is moving online. Those seeking power will need to find a way to make the technology work for them, or risk their potential voters taking their business elsewhere.
The Twitter follower data can be downloaded here. It is based on data from yournextmp.com and is released under a Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) licence.
A qualified accountant and data analyst, interested in politics, economics and data. Twitter: @peterdonaghy