Well it is just over two weeks since I began tracking the number of Twitter followers that each federal party leader has during the course of the current election capmpaign in order to see what the impact of this type of social media presence might be. All of the party leaders have increased their number of Twitter followers but the overall distribution is little changed aside from slight changes for Harper and May. However, what is much more interesting and perhaps more indicative of the changing dynamics of the election are the rates of growth – in followers, as well as tweets.
Figure 1 plots the number of Twitter followers for each of the party leaders for August 13th (noon) and August 29th (6:30am). Figure 2 plots the percentage distribution of these Twitter followers as of August 29th. Compared to the previous distribution, there is not much of a change but the picture gets more interesting if one looks at the percentage growth in followers, which is plotted in Figure 3. It would appear that while all the leaders have grown their followers over the August 13th to August 29th period, the greatest increase has occurred for NDP leader Tom Mulcair (3.8%), followed by Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe (2.7%), then Green Leader Elizabeth May (2.4%), then Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau (1.8%) and finally Conservative Leader Stephen Harper (1.3%).
While Mr. Harper still leads the pack in terms of total followers, the dynamic in recent weeks in terms of percentage growth in Twitter followers appears to belong to Mr. Mulcair. What is also interesting is the growth for Mr. Duceppe – which one imagines is entirely in Quebec – and therefore competing directly for Mr. Mulcair’s supporters given the NDP sweep of Quebec ridings in the last federal election.
Of course, in the world of Twitter, it is not just about your followers but also what you say. Mitch Jackson – a student at Carleton – sent me an e-mail and a copy of an undergraduate paper and analysis he undertook for a political science course last year that looked at whether public opinion on Twitter had any effect on the federal Oshawa-Whitby by-election last year. He found that “The Liberal Party yielded the most support on Twitter with an overwhelming 49.33% of all coded tweets showing Liberal support. The Conservatives, who actually won the election, were the closest in the support category gaining 13.33% of all tweets. However, the Conservatives also had 19.66% of tweets directed at them in some kind of oppositional matter. Even though the Conservatives won the election, Twitter would suggest that the Conservatives had no chance of winning an election with more oppositional tweets than supporting tweets.”
So, perhaps Twitter is not the best way to track an election. Still….I think I will persist. I unfortunately don’t have the time or resources to start coding supporting and oppositional tweets but I have at least been keeping track of the number of tweets made by each of the party leaders. The distribution of tweets is rather lop-sided - on August 13th, the total numbers of tweets made to that date were as follows: Harper (3,471), Mulcair (3,299), Trudeau (7,921), Duceppe (1,008) and Elizabeth May (28,000). As with the number of followers, the number of tweets being made also increased for all the party leaders. As in the case of followers, it is probably more useful to look at changes in the number of tweets over time.
Figure 4 shows the number of tweets made between August 13 and August 29th by each of the party leaders and Figure 5 shows the percentage change. Obviously, Elizabeth May has a lot to say in absolute terms. If you look at the percentage change however, its Duceppe and Mulcair who have shown the greatest percentage growth in their tweets. One wonders if this is yet another indicator of the battle in Quebec between the NDP and the Bloc. Harper seems to be staying relatively quiet on the Twitter tweet front. I suppose we could into a discussion over quantity versus quality of tweets but I digress.
Anyway, that’s all for now. Will try again in a couple of weeks.