What did Twitter make of the leaders’ debate?

April 16, 2010

History was made last night with Britain’s first televised political leaders’ debate, which was seen as an opportunity for Labour’s Gordon Brown, The Conservatives’ David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg to stamp their authority on an election campaign that has so far failed to generate much excitement.

Outsider Clegg was judged the clear winner by almost every snap poll followinged the ITV broadcast. Today a ComRes/ITV opinion poll of over 4,000 people who watched the programme has the Tories on 36 percent, LibDems on 35 percent and Labour on 24 percent — a 14 percent jump for Clegg’s  party.

The debate sparked lively discussion on Twitter.com (most of it via the hashtag #leadersdebate), and exclusive analysis for Reuters.co.uk showed a big spike in anti-Labour sentiment after the first of three debates.

U.S. marketing firm Crimson Hexagon archives all tweets about the election and analyses them for positive and negative sentiment.

As of 10.30pm yesterday 27 percent of tweets in our survey were anti-Labour, versus 13 percent the day before, the highest since April 6. The graphic below shows the percentage of anti-Conservative sentiment falling to 23 percent from 24 percent, while Clegg’s strong performance saw the Liberal Democrats drop to eight percent from 14 percent.

“All talk and no action basically sums up Gordon Brown and Labour. Complete fail,” said @amberlangstreth in one of the tweets in our automated analysis.

Tweeting about the Tories, @respros said: “The Tory local agenda is particularly disjointed. Policy decided by diffuse ad-hoc groups with finance and power still centralised.”

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Positive Labour sentiment went in the other direction, falling from 10 percent to five percent, the lowest since we started monitoring Twitter on March 22. Pro-Tory tweets rose to 10 percent from nine percent, while positive sentiment for the LibDems also rose from 11 percent to 13 percent.

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The next graphic shows the net results for each party since the day we began recording Twitter sentiment.

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There is, however, some good news for Brown. The final graphic shows how, despite the spike in anti-Labour sentiment  seen during the debate, the total political tweets during our sample period still weigh against the Conservatives. And, don’t forget, there are still two more debates to go. We will keep monitoring these stats throughout the campaign and update you at key points right up until polling day.

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