Social media and society

Social media and society

#qldvotes: Final-Week Update on Social Media Activities

This year’s Queensland state election campaign may be very brief, but it’s certainly been action-packed. In my previous post I provided an overview of what were roughly the first two weeks of the campaign; mid-way through the final week, here’s a further update of how the social media campaign has unfolded. As a reminder about our methodology, the dataset for this analysis includes any tweets which contain the key hashtags #qldvotes and #qldpol, their variations, and related keywords, as well as mentions of the Premier and Opposition Leader and of any of the parties by name; further, we’ve identified the Twitter accounts of over 150 candidates and are capturing any public tweets directed at them, as well as any of their own tweets that include any election-related hashtags and keywords.

In this post I’m covering the timeframe of 8-27 January. And in addition to this retrospective analysis, remember that there is also our Queensland Election Social Index (QESI), which takes in Twitter and Instagram data and generates a live overview of the current balance of attention and interaction around the various parties contesting the election; you can see QESI in action over on the QUT Social Media Research Group site.

Reviewing the overall patterns we’ve seen over recent days, then, the general observation I made in the previous post still stands: while the two major parties remain relatively closely matched in terms of @mentions of candidates’ Twitter handles, with a slight lead for the ALP (as seen in the second graph below), there is still considerably more discussion of the LNP and its leader Campbell Newman than there is of the ALP and Annastacia Palaszczuk (as evident from the first graph), with all other parties considerably less prominent.

Over the past few days, and excepting the comparative lull in election-related tweeting during Australia Day, we’ve observed a gradual increase especially in the number of posts per day which discuss the parties (less so for the number of @mentions of candidates), and here again especially where the focus of discussion is on the LNP government; this is a common trend in social media activities during election campaigns, whose volume almost always increases as we come closer to election day.

Tweets about parties and @mentions of candidates per hour. Axel Bruns

Amidst that overall increase are a number of key moments: these include the LNP campaign ‘launch’ on Sunday 18 January, with spikes both in general discussion and in @mentions of Campbell Newman and other LNP leaders; the ALP campaign ‘launch’ on Tuesday 20 January, with an even greater spike both in ALP-related tweets and in @mentions of Annastacia Palaszczuk and her team; and a substantial spike in in-text mentions as well as @mentions of both leaders during the televised Queensland election debate on Friday 23 January.

But over the weekend preceding Australia Day itself, there is also sustained discussion especially about the LNP and its leadership, and more so in the text of tweets themselves than in tweets which @mention Newman or other LNP candidates – indeed, at more than 14,000 tweets per day, 24 and 25 January record the greatest number of tweets discussing the LNP that we have seen so far. This is unusual as weekend days are typically relatively slow days for political discussion on Twitter, and long weekends in summer doubly so.

A brief qualitative examination of the tenor of those tweets will bring no joy to LNP supporters: the majority of these tweets address issues such as the Premier’s threats that local election promises will only be kept in electorates which vote for LNP candidates; his claims that illegal bikie gangs were donating to the ALP campaign (and subsequent suggestion that journalists should Google for evidence); and his absence from the Ashgrove candidates’ debate. Newman is strongly criticised on each of these points, and the fact that users posted such criticism even on the long weekend may be an indication just how badly those issues sat with the general electorate.

Over the course of the past ten days, the gap in the number of @mentions and retweets received by candidates of the two major parties has closed somewhat, as seen in the second graph below, although the stark differences specifically in the retweets of candidates’ messages persist: few Twitter users have chosen to retweet LNP candidates’ posts in the campaign to date. This is party due to the fact that LNP candidates are also tweeting a great deal less than ALP candidates, of course (as the first graph below shows), so there is a smaller number of messages that could potentially be retweeted – but even so, the differences are significant.

Amidst all of this activity around ALP and LNP, incidentally, candidates for the minor parties are receiving very few @mentions or retweets – but since we last reviewed their numbers, independent candidates have pulled ahead of Greens candidates in the total number of @mentions and retweets received. Long-serving independent Nicklin MP Peter Wellington is well in the lead amongst this group, especially following his stated intention to complain to the Queensland Police and Electoral Commission over the Premier’s statements on local election promises.

Tweets by and @mentions of candidates, per party. Axel Bruns

Independent candidates and the Greens have been quite active in tweeting from their Twitter accounts, however, together coming close even to matching the Twitter activities of LNP candidates (who continue to remain comparatively quiet in their uses of social media). Well ahead of the rest of the pack remains the ALP, whose candidates across the state have been sending twice as many tweets as all other candidates combined.

Such activity is not evenly distributed, however: at well over 400 tweets each (since 8 January), candidates Gail Hislop (Burleigh), Penny Toland (Broadwater), Leanne Donaldson (Bundaberg), and Mark Bailey (Yeerongpilly) have been substantially more active than their colleagues, who have typically remained below 100 tweets. (Indeed, there is an argument to be made that lower volumes of tweeting activity may be more effective, since they allow for key messages to stand out better and avoid overwhelming an account’s more casual followers with constant updates.)

Finally, the past ten days have also seen the emergence of a range of additional hashtags accompanying the campaign, in addition to the obvious #qldvotes and #qldpol hashtags and a handful of other generic variations, as the graph below shows (as before, percentages above 100% are due to the use of multiple hashtags in the same tweet). While the #imwithstupid controversy of the first few days of the campaign has gradually disappeared and even the discussion of the federal government’s aborted initiative to change Medicare rebates by now seems like a distant memory, the various campaign ‘launches’ and other events have resulted in a handful of short-lived hashtags: #strongchoices for the LNP ‘launch’, and #qldforum as well as #pplsforum for the TV debate.

The ALP ‘launch’ on 20 January, by contrast, did not see the emergence of a major hashtag in itself (our Queensland Election Social Index briefly showed both #alpqldlaunch and #qldalplaunch as trending hashtags, so perhaps the confusion over which term to use kept it from lasting prominence); the trending of the #abbott hashtag on the same day may be merely coincidental. This is not necessarily bad news for the ALP, however: a substantial portion of the #strongchoices tweets accompanying the LNP event were strongly critical of the LNP’s policies, after all.

Top hashtags accompanying #qldvotes discussion. Axel Bruns

More recently, #ashgrove-related discussion has trended again, especially in relation to Campbell Newman’s no-show at the local candidates’ debate, and pro-ALP hashtag #putlnplast has also grown in prominence. A new entry is the World Wildlife Fund-promoted #fightforthereef hashtag, which emerged on 21 January and has persisted until today.

Notable in their absence, finally, are any hashtags associated with the widely criticised decision by the Prime Minister to recommend a knighthood for Prince Philip, such as #sirprincephilip or #knightmare, although on both 26 and 27 January these hashtags certainly emerged to substantial prominence in overall Twitter discussion in Australia. While (as the prominence of the #medicare and #abbott hashtags clearly indicates) federal political topics are clearly relevant to the Queensland election debate on Twitter, it looks like this particular issue at least has not been connected with the state campaign to date, then – due possibly also to Campbell Newman’s relatively swift negative response to the idea.