If #GE2015 was decided by Twitter – the candidates with the most followers in each constituency

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.

Top 20 Parties

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):

2010 Results and Twitter

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.

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  • “If #GE2015 was decided by Twitter…”

    Thankfully it won’t be.

    “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…”
    No, that’s not the “ground game”. That’s just the background noise.
    The mistake is in assuming that the self-selecting on-line agitators is reflective of actual voters.

    Next!

  • And UKIP are streets ahead of all the other parties in terms of social media engagement….

  • Abucs

    I wonder if Alliance can get Katy Perry to stand for Upper Bann?

  • Korhomme

    Impressive work, SoD, once again!

    Personally, I prefer the parody Twitter accounts; if only GE2015 could be decided by them.

  • banana man

    I follow Jim Allister on twitter….I dont live in North Antrim and certainly wouldnt vote for him. Nevertheless these are some pretty interesting pieces of information and something i regularly look at, wish there was a handier NI version though. Also if they took official candidate campaign twitters Sinn Fein would take East Derry.

  • Reader

    pete baker: …self-selecting on-line agitators…
    Well, SoD was counting followers, not tweets, which goes some way towards meeting that objection. Though the statistics can still be heavily gamed, of course.

  • Reader

    Does the graphic properly represent Plaid Cymru? They have their own green on the map, but not in the key.

  • salmonofdata

    D’oh! All the Green hexagons in Wales are Plaid.

  • Jag

    But then SF would replace Catherine Seeley with Justin Bieber, and DUP would obviously plump for Lady Gaga and UUP for Rihanna. And frankly, any one of them would be an improvement on David Simpson.

  • Jag

    Ah, but remember the day when national newspapers would decide the winner?

    That stopped in the 2000s, and despite the support Labour had in 2010, the Conservatives prevailed.

    Truth be told, media remains important in shaping opinions, but social media is superior to traditional media. A single two-way interaction on Twitter leaves a more lasting impression than hours of TV debates.

    That said, followers does not equal support in your constituency. If you could produce a league table of followers but limit them to constituency, that might be a better predictor of electoral success.

  • Jag

    Judging by the retweets and analysis and general mickey-taking, one of Jamie Bryson’s most avid followers is LADfleg and somehow I don’t think follower equals supporter.

  • Reader

    There is quite a lot of Conservative presence in Northern Ireland. Are those the parachuted-in candidates showing on the map, or local ones?
    If it’s the parachuted in candidates, it looks like they brought some of their hinterland with them.

  • salmonofdata

    Pete,

    If you think that Twitter is just “background noise” in politics then you may wish to go and have a chat with Emily Thornberry.

    The number of Twitter followers isn’t a prediction of who will win in a given seat. I’m not suggesting that The Pirate Party are going to beat Sir Gerald Kaufman in Manchester Gorton, CISTA are going to capture Esher and Walton from the Tories, or Sinn Féin are going to triumph in East Belfast. It’s not meant to be predictive of the election results at all. It’s merely meant to be an indication of the size of the social media presence for each party. As to the extent an increased social media presence converts to votes, we will see later this week.

    I’m curious what you mean by “on-line agitators”. I struggle to see how the act of following (say) David Cameron on Twitter would put you into this category.

    Twitter users in the UK aren’t a representative sample of public opinion. Twitter users tend to be younger, and as such tends towards parties popular with younger voters (i.e. Labour and the Greens) and away from parties who draw more of their support from older voters (i.e. the Tories and Ukip). But even so, there are 15 million Twitter users in the UK, and a lot of these are potential voters. To say that social media (including this very website) has no impact whatsoever on public opinion is, I believe, absurd.

    Incidentally, if you want the next post, there is a link underneath the article. Typing “Next!” into the comments will simply not work.

  • salmonofdata

    For the interested, here is a crosstab of the Northern Ireland only data.

  • salmonofdata

    The blue hexagons in Northern Ireland are all UUP.

  • Reader

    Oops!
    (Edit) Another beautiful theory destroyed by an inconvenient fact…

  • The SF number is across Ireland (or have you managed to dissect the relevant ones?) which does create a slight problem in this sort of exercise for Northern Ireland.

    What Pete said.

  • salmonofdata

    All the numbers are only from candidates standing in this election, so the SF numbers are only their candidates standing in Northern Ireland.

  • so if candidates don’t have a twitter account they er don’t count?

  • Devil Eire

    Yes, it is extremely unfair that, in an exercise designed to be “an indication of the size of the social media presence for each party”, those candidates without twitter accounts are excluded.