Taking Twitter’s political temperature

April 6, 2010

Britain’s first live television debates between the leaders of the three mainstream political parties are not the only new feature to add spice to the upcoming general election, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown today announced will be held on May 6.

The 2010 vote is also the first time politicians and their strategy teams have had to factor in the micro-blogging site Twitter.com. The social media tool, which did not exist at the time of the last election in 2005, now has over 75 million users who between them sent four billion tweets in the first quarter of 2010.

It is also home to a vibrant — and often vitriolic — political community that is certain to go into overdrive in the run-up to polling day and beyond.

But whose side are they on?

To answer this question, Reuters commissioned market research company Crimson Hexagon to conduct a detailed assessment of opinions expressed by the UK public about the political parties on Twitter.

Archiving all tweets related to the parties and their leading figures and then analysing them for positive and negative sentiment (while simultaneously filtering out any tweets which expressed no opinion), the research team was able to take the political temperature of British Twitter users.

The results make for fascinating reading. The first chart, below, shows the percentage of positive tweets for Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and other parties between March 22 and April 5 . The  Conservative Party scores slightly better than its rivals; over the entire period 13 percent of tweets were pro-Tory, compared with 10 percent  pro-Labour, 8 percent pro-Lib Dems and 8 percent for other parties.

UK_Pro_Sentiment

Unfortunately for Tory leader David Cameron, it’s downhill from here. This next graph, showing negative tweets for each party during the same period, shows a big gap between anti-sentiment for the Conservatives and the other parties (an average of 28 percent anti-Tory, 18 percent anti-Labour, 7 percent anti-Lib Dems and 8 percent for the other parties).

UK_Anti_sentiment

The final graph shows the net results for each party and confirms that anti-Tory sentiment was constant throughout this period.

UK_balance_Sentment

These results are somewhat surprising considering the latest opinion polls, some of which have the Tories leading Labour by as much as 10 points, enough to win an outright majority in parliament.

Edward Schneider, a consultant at Crimson Hexagon, said: “Twitter reveals the Tories to be the most talked about, as well as the most polarising, party in recent weeks. Over 40 percent of Twitter conversation on UK politics  in the last two weeks has concerned the Conservative Party, compared to only 28% for Labour.

“However, much of the gap in volume is comprised of negative tweets — the Conservative Party has only a 3 percentage point lead on Labour in terms of favourable tweets.

“It’s worth noting that Twitter support for the Liberal Democrats and other parties, particularly UKIP, does not lag far behind, and in aggregate terms it actually surpasses both the leading parties. The possibility of a hung parliament is unquestionably alive, at least online.”

Over the coming weeks we will update this information to provide you with a real-time view of what the UK Twitter community truly thinks about the main political parties.

resultsMar22toApr5_chart (3)

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Twitter is great for following certain people or laundry lists at once, but to enable deeper insights and analysis we created a side-by-side comparison site, Politwecal, at http://www.politwecal.com . Take a look – especially the search function should be handy for comparing the latest opinions from party reps.

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