By Manita Dosanjh

May 11th, 2015

It seemed for a moment that a coalition would be the only feasible outcome, but to the surprise of a lot of people in the UK, the Conservative Party are in for another term. What’s even more surprising is that the Scottish National Party (who are pretty much the new kids on the block when it comes to British parliament) managed to gain 50 seats.

Looking back on the roller coaster election campaign that has just passed, the conversation around social media and its role in politics has been more prominent than ever before. But looking at social engagement, could we have known the results before the votes were counted?

Finally, we have the answer to the question that was asked repeatedly in the run up to polling day: can social media predict an election? We’ve been monitoring the main parties to track web mentions and social media engagement and the results offer some telling insights.

Twitter snapped up a staggering majority of election buzz, with 90% of party mentions. That’s a stark contrast to just 6% of party mentions coming from news publishers.

UK Elections forecast

Interestingly, content from news publishers dominated the top Twitter mentions. The stats raise the much larger question on the future of news consumption, a hot topic right now after Facebook recently announced the imminent Instant Articles initiative. Content distribution tactics throughout the election suggest that news publishers are relying more and more on social media to distribute and garner engagement to their content.

Delve in to the performance of individual parties on social, and the results get a little more interesting. UKIP dominated the social stratosphere consistently throughout the campaign, but with less than 1% of seats won in parliament, it’s clear that the level of activity didn’t correlate with the final result.

Mentions-by-topic

Analysing the the top mentions around the party, it quickly becomes clear that the level of activity comes down to UKIP instigating the most drama.

Blog-image-SM-UK-Election-654x400

 

UKIP’s social strategy boiled down to garnering the biggest reaction, not necessarily the most support for party policies. Spearheaded by a leader constantly antagonising social media users and stirring controversy, UKIP managed to make the most noise and be the most entertaining – but evidently this didn’t help them win votes.

Taking UKIP’s performance out of the equation, the numbers get a little more interesting. If we turn our attention to Facebook engagement for each party, the results are quite telling.

Looking at the Facebook reach and engagement levels for each party over the past 14 days, the Conservatives have maintained a steady majority of total page likes:

As well as surpassing the others by far in gaining new page likes:

Conservative-engagement

It’s clear from these figures that the Conservative Facebook page reflects a party that is steadily gaining traction.

Extending the time period to the entire month of April, the stats become even more interesting. For a time period of around two weeks in April, the Scottish National Party were racking up almost five times as much proportional Facebook engagement as any other party, including UKIP:

SNP-engagement

Engagement level is calculated proportionally in Falcon’s Measure: although the SNP have significantly less overall Facebook fans, the users who are supporting them have been the most active. This reflects the type of rise to success that has now been confirmed by the election results;  the SNP are the new kids on the block, but they’ve used social media successfully to spread their message and gain loyalty and commitment from a much smaller audience.

What’s more, if you look closer at this this time period, and another element of the election result is forecasted. The Lib Dems, represented by the red line, have an engagement level of almost zero. With a loss of 47 seats (leaving them with a total of just 1% of seats in parliament), there’s a clear alignment here between the lack of Facebook engagement and the Liberal Democrat’s shocking loss.

The news is changing
From an election that appeared to belong to anyone, and gestured to an almost certain coalition, the Tory win might be seen as surprising on the surface. But delve into the data, and it seems that the outcome of the election has been hinted at for some time. The alignment between Facebook engagement and the successful parties is unquestionable.

But what does this all mean for the future of politics? As Sillicon Valley’s tech giants start to move in on the world of news publishing, it’s not clear how public opinion might be shaped in the future. One thing’s for sure, the old fashioned ‘Sun Wot Won It’ days are a thing of the past.

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