There’s just one more week to go until the end of the 2012 Queensland state election campaign – and as I write this, the tenor of the mainstream media coverage is that we’re heading for a landslide election win for the conservative LNP. So, let’s take another look at the way the election has played out on Twitter over the past week (our coverage of the previous weeks is here: preliminary overview, week 1, week 2, and week 3).
Before we get started, I’m also happy to report that our research to date has been featured in a great piece on the ABC’s 7.30 Queensland programme, which is available here, and embedded below:
Also, another brief reminder about the nature of the data we’re looking at for this study: 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).
I’ll get to the usual stats for leading politicians’ accounts in a minute – but given the significant shifts in public sentiment towards the LNP and its lead candidate Campbell Newman, let’s also have a look at some of the key moments in public discussion this week. To begin with, here’s the total volume of tweets to and from the candidates over the past seven days (I write this on Sunday, so our data for 18 March only includes tweets up to noon):
There are some obvious spikes during the week, which become even clearer if we look at the hour-by-hour activity levels:
We have some notable, isolated spikes, especially on 16 and 17 March. The major spike on 16 March, between 7 and 10 p.m., is driven by a public debate between the two candidates for the Premiership – and such Twitter spikes are a common phenomenon around candidate debates; we’ve also seen them during the last Australian federal election, for example.
The earlier spike, between 1 and 2 p.m., is more interesting: it’s provoked by a press conference by Premier Anna Bligh, who used it to present new allegations of misconduct against her opponent for the Premiership, Campbell Newman. And there’s a second, related spike the next day – on 17 March, Twitter activity between politicians and their followers spikes especially around 4-6 p.m., around a breaking news story: the announcement that the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission had not found any evidence of official misconduct by Newman in his previous role as Lord Mayor of Brisbane, and would not investigate further (but would further investigate donations to Newman’s lord mayoral re-election fund, made by property developers). Of the over 330 tweets we captured during those two hours, more than half contained the abbreviation ‘CMC’ in fact. It seems safe to infer that this story would have had a great deal of resonance also well beyond our dataset, and may have contributed significantly to the decline in support for the ALP and Premier Bligh (who had made some very public allegations against Newman).
These developments later in the week seem to have overshadowed the major story which dominated the start of the week – the ongoing debate around gay marriage and civil unions in Queensland. The substantial level of activity during Monday was driven largely by these themes: by a controversial ad against gay marriage from Katter’s Australia Party, by a GetUp! response ad featuring Katter’s gay half-brother, and by Campbell Newman walking our of his own press conference in order to avoid answering further questions about his stance on civil union legislation in Queensland.
The third major theme of the week – the release of the Queensland Flood Commission’s final report, around midday on 16 March – hardly even registers against these other themes, interestingly. We’ve yet to analyse the comprehensive dataset on the #qldvotes hashtag, which we’ve also been gathering throughout the campaign period – but if the patterns in the @reply conversations around politicians which we’re examining here are any guide at all, it looks like the Labor Party’s allegations against Newman, unsustained as they’ve turned out to be, have backfired quite substantially.
Keeping all this in mind, let’s have another look at how the leading political Twitter accounts’ stats are stacking up this week (and you might want to check out the corresponding graphs for the previous three weeks as well). There are a number of obvious shifts here: for the first time in the campaign, @TheQldPremier isn’t the most active Twitter account in this leadership group – the generic party account @QLDLabor has taken over, with nearly 170 tweets this past week. Deputy Premier @andrewfrasermp has slipped back a little, while Ashgrove candidate (and major hurdle to a Campbell Newman Premiership) @katejonesmp has maintained her level of activity. (Running out of competition, incidentally, it’s also surprising that former ALP Premier Peter Beattie’s @SmartState1 account has really dropped back – after nearly 100 tweets in week 2, and almost 60 in week 3, he’s now only managed just over 20…)
Overall, though, Labor accounts are still well ahead of their LNP counterparts. After a poor showing in week 3, the generic @LNPQLD account has ramped up its activities to a level approaching its week 2 volume of tweets again, and @Campbell_Newman has similarly nearly tripled his number of tweets this week (while following through on his stated intentions to terminate his brief flirtation with a separate, ‘personal’ account, @CD_Track). Even the deputy parliamentary opposition leader @TimNichollsMP has become more active again, if largely through retweets. (Parliamentary opposition leader Jeff Seeney remains deliberately absent from Twitter, as he told the ABC’s 7.30 Queensland programme this week: “I’m not that technologically advanced”.) But even so, the combined number of tweets from these accounts doesn’t even match the number of tweets by @QLDLabor alone – in terms of volume alone, ALP accounts maintain their supremacy on Twitter.
But such high levels of activity mean very little if there is no corresponding public response. Finally, then (I’ll skip the @reply network graph this week as this post is long enough already), here’s our usual leaderboard of tweets and @mentions by accounts captured in our dataset (which, to repeat, contains tweets to and from the 80-odd political accounts we’re tracking). As always, account names are colour-coded according to party (and while @JuliaGillard is obviously a Labor politician, she’s not a candidate in the Queensland election, so no colour for her here…).
|user||tweets sent||tweets||@mentions received|
The activity table, on the left, clearly shows the drop in tweets from @TheQldPremier, which was consistently near the top of that list in previous weeks. By contrast, Katter’s Australia Party candidate @RonWadforth is a new entry here, and other KAP politicians are also very visible here – perhaps this is related to the controversy around the party’s anti-gay marriage ads. The @LNPQLD account has also returned to the top 20.
It’s the other side of the ledger which is a better indicator of the overall visibility of these accounts, though, as it measures the number of @mentions (through @replies and manual retweets) they’ve received throughout the week. Here, it’s notable that after running neck-and-neck for the majority of the campaign, @Campbell_Newman has now pulled ahead of @TheQldPremier more decisively, receiving 500 more mentions this week (he was just over 50 mentions ahead over the same period last week). Both leaders also received some 50% more @mentions in total over the past seven days than they did last week – and on average, this is also true for most of the other accounts on the list; clearly the campaign is heating up. This top 20 is clearly dominated by the major parties; Katter’s Australia Party candidate @aidanmclinton is the only minor party representative here (again, no doubt related to the advertising controversy early in the week).
And if accounts are not related to the parties themselves, they belong to journalists and news organisations. If we keep in mind how we’ve gathered this dataset, this also tells us something interesting about how Twitter is now used by journalists during the campaign: remember that tweets will only be included in our data if they’re from candidate accounts, or @mention them – so tweets which @mention journalists are either from politicians back to journalists, or @mention both journalists and politicians in the same tweet (they could be manual retweets of journalists’ tweets which mention politicians, for example). This, then, demonstrates how central to the Twitter conversation about the election these journalistic accounts have become: they’re using the medium both to converse publicly with politicians, and to share news and observations about them – and their messages are widely disseminated by members of the general public who follow the campaign.
And that’s it for this week. I’ll post a final update next weekend, probably on Sunday once we know the final outcome of the election; good luck to all candidates participating in the poll, regardless of political persuasion!