There’s still plenty of time to go in the current Queensland state election campaign, but early signs from the social media trail offer some encouragement for Labor premier Annastacia Palaszczuk: she is receiving considerably more retweets than LNP challenger Tim Nicholls, and chatter about the controversial Adani mine project has declined in recent days.
Twitter and Facebook are now a standard part of the campaigning toolkit for all major parties, and previous campaigns at state and federal levels have also pointed to effective ways to integrate online and in-person campaigning: voters who’ve already seen a party’s messages in their social media feeds may be a little more open to a chat when the local candidate comes doorknocking.
On Twitter, we’ve identified the accounts of 60 Labor and 48 LNP candidates, as well as central party and campaign accounts; the Greens are represented by 34 accounts, while One Nation and Katter’s Australian Party each have only a handful of tweeting candidates. Over the first two weeks of the campaign, they’ve sent some 3,300 tweets in total, and received some 54,000 @mentions and retweets.
These are far from evenly distributed, however. @mentions of parties and politicians tend to favour the incumbent, and this is not surprising: more of the debate on social media and elsewhere will be about the track record of the current government, rather than about the promises of the opposition. At 30,000 tweets, Labor accounts have received nearly double the @mentions of the LNP (17,000) to date, and this is in line with patterns in previous state and federal elections.
It’s the retweets that tell a more remarkable story. The nearly 7,000 retweets for Labor candidates’ tweets amount to more than twelve times the 570 retweets received by the LNP – and during an election campaign, retweets usually do indicate some level of endorsement. Here, the pattern between incumbents and challengers is considerably different from other recent elections: in 2016, for example, the incumbent federal Coalition received far fewer retweets than the Labor opposition; in the 2015 Queensland election, Campbell Newman’s LNP government similarly struggled to attract retweets for its messages.
These patterns do not point to a significant mood for change or substantial willingness amongst Twitter users to promote the LNP’s campaign messages. Conservative commentators may want to chalk this up to a purported left-wing bias in the Australian Twittersphere – but that claim is not borne out by our analysis of the overall Twittersphere, which includes sizeable communities both of left- and of right-wing supporters.
Adani and One Nation Generate Heat for the Major Parties
Labor also seems to have weathered the early onslaught of critical coverage well. The first week of the campaign saw a substantial volume of debate about the controversial Adani mine project, which divides opinion between the southeastern population centres around Brisbane (where concerns about environmental impacts are high) and the regional centres near the mine (which anticipate potential job creation prospects).
As a result, during week one, some 1,500 tweets per day by and to candidates’ accounts contained the term ‘Adani’. Hashtags related to the controversy (#adani, #stopadani, #coralnotcoal, and others) were the most prominent topical hashtags, in addition to generic tags like #qldvotes, #qldpol, and #auspol. Out on the campaign trail, several of Palaszczuk’s press conferences were ambushed by anti-Adani protesters.
The story is further complicated by the fact that, in his role at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Premier Palaszczuk’s partner contributed to Adani’s application for a $1 billion loan supporting the project; Palaszczuk announced at the end of the first week of campaigning that she would veto that loan if the application were successful.
Judging by our Twitter data, this veto threat, and the public perception that this signalled Labor’s growing distance from the Adani project, appears to have neutralised the Adani debate to some extent. ‘Adani’ tweets by and to candidate accounts have declined from around 1,500 tweets per day in week one to less than 600 in week two, and indeed the overall volume of tweets by and to these accounts have dropped from over 5,000 to some 3,700 per day in week two.
We’re still far from election day, but this shift in position may indicate that Labor believes that its support for Adani will lose it more votes in the southeast than it can gain further north – and our social media patterns seem to bear out this view.
Meanwhile, with Pauline Hanson’s much-publicised arrival on the campaign trail the second week has seen more discussion about the role that One Nation may play in the next parliament. In particular, the announcement on the evening of Friday 10 November that the LNP will preference One Nation over Labor in more than half the seats in Queensland has already generated substantial debate: some 20% of tweets by and to the candidates on the following Saturday included keywords related to One Nation and/or preferencing.
While the LNP announcement – after the evening news on a Friday – was clearly timed to minimise media scrutiny of its decision, it remains to be seen whether this debate will carry over into the third week of the campaign. Labor will no doubt seek to exploit this preference arrangement to attract traditional conservative voters who remain critical of One Nation.
And finally, if you’re still uncertain about which hashtag to use to join the debate: in tweets by and to candidate accounts, plain old #qldvotes leads #qldvotes2017 by more than ten to one so far. It’s a landslide.