With the countdown to the General Election now officially underway, every polling company in the land are releasing daily updates of their predictions, with current opinion ranging from a conservative majority to a Labour minority government, with plenty of talk of a hung parliament thrown in to the mix. Inspired by Hitwise’s Bill Tancer’s excellent book Click, we wanted to see what online behaviour could tell us about likely voting results – perhaps we could pick a winner with some good old search data and buzz monitoring.
In his book Click, Bill Tancer (Hitwise’s General Manager of Global Research) talks of being able to accurately predict the winners of shows such as Strictly Come Dancing weeks in advance, simply by looking at search volumes around each of the contestants. Using this as a starting point, we looked at the relative search volumes for ‘conservative party’, ‘labour party’ and ‘liberal democrats’ over the last 30 days. The results were perhaps not unexpected:
So, based on current search trends, a hung parliament beckons, with neither Labour nor Conservatives having any sizable majority.
But is this reliable? A quick look at the same chart for 2005 shows a surprising picture:
The same prediction model for the 2005 election would have the Liberal Democrats as the biggest party, way ahead of the Conservatives in third place. How can we explain this? The Lib Dem’s 2005 campaign looks to have been hugely effective in driving people to seek out more information on the party, spiking perfectly on polling day. Perhaps those looking to find out more didn’t like what they found, or perhaps the large number of searches right up to polling day suggests the electorate still didn’t know what the Liberal Democrats stood for.
Either way, the raw search data doesn’t appear to tell the full story. Perhaps some buzz monitoring would be more informative.
The free and simple to use twitrrtr.com assigns positive, negative or neutral sentiment to any recent tweet containing a chosen term. By this measure, 12.8% of all recent tweets mentioning ‘Labour Party’ are positive, compared to 6.8% for ‘Conservative Party’ and 11.3% for ‘Liberal Democrats’. However, a quick glance at the tweets involved shows a range of off-topic content from foreign tweeters, alongside some questionable sentiment attribution.
A more accurate measure of buzz comes from Tweetminster.com, a constituency by constituency buzz monitoring experiment based on findings from the 2009 General Election in Japan, where “in the majority of constituencies, the most mentioned candidate won”. On their current figures, Labour would have the largest presence in a hung parliament.
In all this data, let’s not forget the traditional pollsters. YouGov’s TellYouGov service monitors number of mentions and sentiment for any individual or topic the general public choose to mention. On today’s data, Gordon Brown leads David Cameron narrowly, both in volume of mentions and sentiment. Nick Clegg has slipped behind Lady Gaga, who may or may not be considering a shock campaign to lead the country.
So, with the election 30 days away, all our measures point to Labour taking the largest share of seats in a hung parliament.
Whatever the outcome, the power of online campaigning first demonstrated in the US Presidential Election will be seen for the first time in the UK. With all of the established parties and many individual candidates utilising websites, blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook to varying degrees, the internet has become a major political battleground, and should provide an eye opening learning experience for those of us interested in the connection between online and offline behaviour.
In the mean time, we might just make do with the office sweepstake…
Credit to Channel 4 News’s article ‘the tools of the new media’ article, which details a range of online political blogs, websites, apps and tools, some of which are mentioned above.