Can Social Media Engagement Predict Elections?

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The 2012 Alberta Provincial election was noteworthy as the vast majority of official polls predicted an upset win for The Wild Rose party, while in effect the incumbent Conservatives under Alison Redford won a comfortable majority. The final week of the provincial campaign saw pollsters and pundits echoing published numbers, yet in the background on social media a shift in sentiment was occurring. That was especially true on Twitter and Facebook in the important urban riding in and around Calgary.

Now Calgary is once again in the news as one of three Federal by elections to be held on November 26th. Considered a ‘safe’ Conservative seat a November 17th Forum Research poll for Calgary Centre shows the Liberal candidate Harvey Locke (30%) within the margin of error to beat Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt (32%) in voter preferences – albeit, the Forum poll has a very small sample size and there are very few other polls using the same methodology to use in comparison.

Can Social Media Indicate Voter Sentiment?

A problem with political polling in Canada is lack of consistent reports, mainly due to the expense with a relatively small population for polling companies and media organizations. In reality only Federal elections and those in more populated provinces receive the number, and variety, of polls with larger (therefore more accurate) sample sizes. Creating a comparison system like Nate Silver did with the 538 New York Times blog, to the humiliation of Republican pundits in the recent US Presidential race, simply is not possible in Canada due to a dearth of data.

Campaigns certainly are using social media, so how do the candidates compare in their use of Twitter and Facebook? Note – each candidate per riding is profiled below with their website, Twitter handle (followers and updates), and Facebook page likes. Number of Twitter updates is based on when they created their account, which in some cases was well ahead of the party nominations – so does not necessarily reflect updates during the actual campaign.

Calgary Centre, Alta.

Joan Crockatt (CPC)- website

Twitter: @Crockatteer: 2879 Followers, 10637 updates since June 2009
Facebook: 1347 Likes

Harvey Locke (LPC) – website

Twitter: @HarveyLockeYYC: 801 Followers, 402 updates since Sept. 2012
Facebook: 656 Likes

Dan Meades (NDP) – website

Twitter: @Meades4Centre: 427 Followers, 210 updates since Oct. 2012
Facebook: 302 Likes

Chris Turner (GPC) – website

Twitter: @Turner4yyc: 558 Followers, 1022 updates since Sept. 2012
Facebook: 1932 Likes

Durham, Ontario

Erin O’Toole (CPC)- website

Twitter: @Erin_M_OToole: 452 Followers, 771 updates since May 2011
Facebook: 436 Likes

Grant Humes (LPC) – website

Twitter: @GrantHumes: 562 Followers, 461 updates since March. 2011
Facebook: 467 Likes

Larry O’Connor (NDP) – website

Twitter: @LarryOConnorNDP: 529 Followers, 1252 updates since Aug. 2009
Facebook: 594 Likes

Virginia Ervin (GPC) – website

Twitter: @Virginia_Ervin: 121 Followers, 177 updates since July 2009
Facebook: 239 Likes

Victoria, BC

Dale Gann (CPC)- website

Twitter: @DaleGann: 916 Followers, 288 updates since March 2009
Facebook: 259 Likes

Paul Summerville (LPC) – website

Twitter: @PaulSummerville: 854 Followers, 2768 updates since Dec. 2009
Facebook: 192 Likes

Murray Rankin (NDP) – website

Twitter: @MurrayRankin: 975 Followers, 368 updates since Sept. 2012
Facebook: 1,151 Likes

Donald Galloway (GPC) – website

Twitter: @DonaldGalloway: 485 Followers, 497 updates since May 2011
Facebook: 673 Likes

In campaigns social media is largely used to support base voters – those already with a connection to a particular party. That is reflected in the polling especially for Calgary Centre, although the rise in numbers for particular candidates is revealing. While Joan Crockatt appears to have more followers on Twitter and Facebook, the number of interactions is low: compared to Liberal candidate Harvey Locke and Green Party candidate Chris Turner who each have risen sharply in numbers and positive sentiment especially in the last two weeks. This could indicate an upset in Monday’s vote.

The Victoria Riding is also interesting. The NDP certainly came into the by election with a massive incumbent vote advantage from the May 2011 Federal election, which is reflected in the social media numbers especially on Facebook, yet the sewage debate (a central issue in the Victoria campaign) has certainly pushed sentiment towards Liberal candidate Paul Summerville and Green Party candidate Donald Galloway.

This is all academic of course. By elections are challenging to predict as major polls are not available, turnout is usually lower, and local issues can have an undue effect compared to national or provincial elections. However, it will be interesting to see post Monday if social media numbers reflect actual placement once the votes are finally tallied.

As always – your thoughts, comments and questions are welcome.

 

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