Having caught up with developments in week 2 in the previous post, let’s bring the story up to date by looking at activity patterns on Twitter during week 3 of the Queensland state election. This post covers the period of 5-11 Mar. 2012, then (except that 11 March isn’t quite over yet, so we’ll be missing whatever happened after midday). As before, we’re working off a dataset which contains tweets from and to all the candidate accounts we’ve been able to identify so far (drawing on the Courier-Mail’s Twitter list of accounts). Included in our dataset are all tweets which were either sent by those accounts, or @mention them (in the form of @replies or manual retweets).
Before we get to the week’s tweets, though, I thought it would also be useful to take stock of the campaign so far – from the start of the ‘phoney’ election campaign in late January through to the official start of the election period on 19 Feb. through to yesterday. Here’s the overall volume of tweets, and the number of unique users participating, on a day-to-day basis. Clearly, there’s a gradual growth in activities, boosted substantially on 19 Feb. as the election is officially announced. Over the past three weeks, we’re also seeing some obvious weekly patterns; activity on the weekends is markedly lower than on weekdays (and fewer users are participating, too). Additionally, the weeks themselves seem somewhat front-loaded – there appears to be more activity during the early weekdays than towards the latter part of the week. Perhaps this is an indication of the week’s pre-planned talking points being rolled out by each party’s political operatives?
In the background of the graph, I’ve also included the percentage of tweets on each day which were contributed by three different groups of users: the one per cent of most active contributors during the full seven weeks so far; the next nine per cent of still highly active users; and the remaining 90% of least active contributors. Very obviously, the top ten per cent – and amongst them, the top one per cent especially – dominate proceedings on each day; at the same time, however, the dominance of the lead users is also gradually and very slowly being pushed back, as a greater number and range of Twitter users begin to take at least some interest in discussing the election and start to post @replies to or retweets of the politicians. This appears to be a common pattern – well beyond Twitter itself – for public attention to election campaigns: it’s in the last few weeks of a campaign that the wider electorate, beyond the political junkies, actually begins to pay any attention.
But back to week 3 – and back to the principal political actors. Compared to our observations from week 2, which largely showed business as usual, week 3 of the campaign brings up some genuine surprises in activity patterns: at least for this week, the LNP opposition seems to have largely ceded Twitter domination to the ALP government. While @TheQldPremier Anna Bligh maintains her high rate of tweeting (sharing the load with her staff, it should be noted), and matches her activity figures from week 2 almost exactly, the overall @QLDLabor account has now also woken from its slumber, and was more than three times as active as it was in week 2 (we didn’t track it in week 1). Deputy Premier @AndrewFraserMP, on the other hand, dropped back, as did @katejonesmp, who contests the crucial seat of Ashgrove against LNP leader Campbell Newman; both only managed roughly half of last week’s Twitter work rate. Also continuing at a reduced rate (from nearly 100 to just under 60 tweets per week) is former Labor Premier turned media commentator Peter Beattie. Still, a good showing overall from the ALP, whose two major accounts now lead this group by some margin.
On the conservative site, the story is remarkably different. Last week, the @LNPQLD came second in this group, with nearly 120 tweets; this week (again, at least through to midday on Sunday), it managed only about a third of that number. Given the already very limited performance of the LNP’s candidate accounts, this is highly surprising: as I noted for week 2, it seemed as if the party had centralised its Twitter strategy, and used the generic party account as well as, to a lesser extent, that of its candidate for Premier, @Campbell_Newman, as the chief drivers of its Twitter campaign. If that was the case, something must have changed quite seriously in week 3. The malaise is also visible for that other account, in fact: @Campbell_Newman, posting a modest 34 tweets in week 2, only managed a paltry nine tweets in week 3 – an astonishingly low number for a political leader running for a major office (even if Newman himself had no interest in Twitter, you’d expect his campaign staff to keep the account ticking over at a higher volume, at least).
To further confuse things, you’ll also note the appearance of a new account in our little leaders’ group: the cryptically named @CD_Track. This has nothing to do with music playlists – the ‘CD’, it seems, stands for Campbell Newman’s chosen nickname and campaign slogan, ‘Can Do’ –, but represents an (apparently short-lived) attempt by Newman to present a more personal, personable image on Twitter. This could be seen as Newman’s very own ‘Real Julia’ moment, perhaps.
@CD_Track began on 5 March with observations of life during the campaign –
On the bus to toowoomba – free lollies and lemon slice were handed out !
–, but ceased to be updated only three days later, at least according to a tweet it sent to a reporter from the Gold Coast Bulletin:
@sueGCB sue – thanks for your help in getting going. I am going to use Campbell_Newman from now on and cease use of CD Track
Although its final tweet to @sueGCB denies any pressure from the LNP campaign team to shut down this second account –
– it is nonetheless not difficult to imagine campaign strategists’ unhappiness with the dilution of Newman’s online presence which this duplication of Twitter accounts presents. @CD_Track managed ten tweets during its brief existence (though none of them were particularly likely to have much impact on its followers’ voting intentions); even combined with @Campbell_Newman’s activities during week 3, those 19 tweets in total represent a significant drop from last week’s 34 @Campbell_Newman tweets, and they fail to come anywhere close to matching the Labor accounts’ much more substantial work rate.
The fact that the final major LNP account, that of deputy opposition leader @TimNichollsMP, returned to a somewhat greater output of ten tweets during the week (after week 2’s solitary effort), can only provide some very limited consolation for the LNP, even if we ignore the fact that eight of those tweets were retweets: even in combination, the 69 tweets posted by those four LNP accounts during week 3 don’t even come close to matching the 161 tweets posted by @TheQldPremier alone. At least on Twitter, for whatever that’s worth, and at least as far as the task of getting the message out is concerned, we’ve got to call this week for the ALP, by a wide margin.
The weekly activity and visibility tables also bear this out. Only one LNP-run Twitter account appears in the top 20 most active accounts during week 3 – and remarkably, it’s none of the major actors, but controversial candidate @gavking, who continues to be dogged by his rape comments. Otherwise, the list remains dominated by Labor and Greens accounts, with a solitary candidate for Katter’s Australian Party also appearing. (Update: as with the previous two weeks, I initially turned the ALP’s @ryan4glasshouse into a Greens account – fixed now.)
|User||tweets sent||User||@mentions rec’d|
But the comparative lack of activity from LNP accounts doesn’t mean that Twitter users aren’t talking at or about them: the leaderboard of the most @replied and retweeted accounts in our dataset once again shows a close-run race between @Campbell_Newman and @TheQldPremier, and a large gap to the rest of the field. The presence of Newman’s short-lived @CD_Track account is especially notable here: despite its brief moment as a going concern, a substantial number of users nonetheless paid attention to it.
It’s worth noting in this context, by the way, that the vast majority of @mentions of politicians’ accounts are genuine @replies, rather than (manual) retweets: only 16 of @Campbell_Newman’s 1908 @mentions are retweets; only 104 of the 1852 @mentions received by @TheQldPremier. (And as always, we’re only able to track ‘manual’ retweets – “RT @user …” and variations thereof –, not ‘button’ retweets; there’s no real reason that the amount of button and manual retweets should differ substantially, though.) While some portion of those @replies may only be mentions of those politicians, rather than attempts to communicate directly with them, it is nonetheless notable that of the major politicians we’re mainly focussing on, only @TheQldPremier Bligh makes a sustained attempt to respond (via @replies) at least to some of them.
Finally, another network map of the interactions between politicians’ accounts:
Given the overall dominance of ALP accounts this week, it’s not surprising that this network, too, shows ALP accounts in leading positions. The LNP’s @TimNichollsMP does reappear as an active combatant here (mostly directing his tweets at Deputy Premier @AndrewFraserMP), and on the Labor side, it’s @Matt4SurfersALP who most actively takes the fight to the opposition (in the form of @Campbell_Newman and @LNPQLD). Beyond that, we’re mainly seeing the usual intra-party @mentions – especially of generic party accounts @QLDLabor and @LNPQLD mentioning their respective candidates for the Premiership.
We’ll see what the next weeks bring – only another fortnight to go!