As the first week of the election campaign wraps up, Twitter has shown that it has become a powerful tool during political campaigns. There have already been some high profile uses of Twitter, such as being able to see clear evidence of public support for the Green Party's Elizabeth May in her debate exclusion, Harper and Ignatieff trading challenges for a one-on-one debate and @senatorjake taking a shot at reporters.
Twitter has seen a surge of activity in the Canadian political discussion, there have already been over 130,000 tweets in the first week of the campaign. The media has been highlighting the impressive numbers of Twitter volume - 30,000 tweets in first 4-5 days of the campaign. This is not the whole picture though, these numbers only reflect tweets using the election hashtags like #elxn41. Politwitter.ca has a much larger data pool to sample from, including a large directory of MPs, candidates, riding associations and more. Over 600 accounts are tracked in the federal list. Politwitter also has numerous hashtags that are indexed along with per-riding hashtags and a list of keywords that are tracked. This enables Politwitter to provide a much broader picture of the Canadian political twitterverse.
With over 130,000 tweets in the first week (18,000 tweets a day) compared to around 44,000 tweets in the week before the election campaign began. However, only around 43% of these tweets are original content, the rest being retweets. So far, Liberal MPs and candidates have been out-tweeting their competitors by almost 2:1, but the Conservatives have more MPs tweeting each day. I suspect these numbers will even out as the parties get more of their candidates on Twitter. There are currently 170 MPs on Twitter, despite my assumptions I was surprised to find that nearly 90% of the their accounts are currently active! This number is much higher than during the pre-election period. MPs and candidates have only contributed 4,000 tweets (3% of the total amount). Liberals are retweeted the most, and Liberals and Conservatives are about even for replies to their tweets.
The now widely known #elxn41 hashtag has accounted for more than half the tweets during the first week. The French language version #fed2011 has only around 10% of #elxn41's volume.
One of the intriguing things that Politwitter has been doing with all of this data is sentiment tracking. Tweets are marked as positive, negative or neutral using a method developed by Stanford University called "Sentiment Classification using Distant Supervision." Only around 20% of Tweets can be classified, the remainder don't have any or enough emotional context. But, even with that low percentage we can produce interesting results because of the volume of Tweets during this election. For example, you can see the Green party's positive to negative percentage shoot up on Wednesday when the Elizabeth May exclusion from the debates was the hot topic. Sentiment for the Liberals has stayed more positive versus the Conservatives and the NDP for most of the campaign so far; the Bloc Quebecois has enjoyed high sentiment throughout the whole period.
Sentiment is also tracked for each of the party leaders, these numbers have moved around a fair bit through the week but at the weeks end the ranking is Gilles Duceppe, Elizabeth May, Michael Ignatieff , Stephen Harper, Jack Layton. Harper has the greatest volume of positive tweets, but the previous ranking comparing the ratio between positive and negative is more insightful. Elizabeth May has been tweeting more than the other leaders which makes sense since she declared the Greens would be using Social Media heavily and she needs to get her message out more than the others.
Politwitter is also tracking popularity and sentiment of the parties election promises. In the first week the promises by the NDP have received the greatest positive response followed by the Liberals then Conservatives. The Liberal promises have been the most popular on Twitter having the most Tweets and retweets mentioning them.
The first week of the "Twitter Election" started strong and I prediect will continue to grow in numbers with huge spikes during the debate and election day, May 2nd. What further surprises and insights will Twitter provide during the rest of the campaign? If the first week is any indication there will be more and it seems like it's the thing to be watching. The great unknown is if any of this actually affects voters and election results, time may tell.
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