When parliament was dissolved at midnight on March 30 a team at Storyful began tracking the tweets of thousands of candidates across the United Kingdom. In this post, Peadar Grogan and Donie O’Sullivan look at some of the key numbers, trends, hashtags and links that have defined the general election campaign on Twitter in the first two weeks of the campaign. Candidates tweeted almost 8,000 times during the ITV leaders’ debate, Labour candidates tweeted a lot more about David Cameron than they did Ed Miliband, and some candidates even tweeted about WrestleMania. 

In Numbers

3,849 Candidates*

650 Seats up for grabs

2,375 — The number of candidates active on Twitter*

54,905 tweets by candidates in the first week of campaigning

26% — the proportion of tweets from Labour candidates — the top tweeters

36 tweets per head from SNP candidates — the most active campaigners

515 tweets from Liberal Democrat @stevebeasant — the top tweeter during weeks one and two

14% — the proportion of the entire week’s tweets crammed into the two hours of the leaders’ debate on April 2

7,962 — the number of tweets sent by candidates from the seven participating parties during the ITV #LeadersDebate

721 uses of “Cameron” by Labour Candidates — 170 more uses than “Miliband.”

  • Storyful’s database of candidates’ Twitter accounts is based on data from YourNextMP.

Week 1

The Spike

What dominated week one?

The graph above shows tweets, per 15-minute period, across seven days, from just after 1 am on Monday March 30, to 12:59 pm on April 5. Tweeting patterns were consistent day to day, except on the night of Thursday, April 2. The ITV leaders’ debate dominated social media during the first week of the campaign. See here for more on the specifics of the debate.

Who was tweeting?

Labour Party candidates make up the largest list in our data set, with 566 tweeting candidates. The 28 tweeters from Plaid Cymru make up the smallest tweeting candidate group. Plotting tweets per head shows a very different story:

Here we can see that the Scottish National Party’s candidates are the most active on Twitter, with 36 tweets per head over the course of the week. Labour’s candidates manage to hold their own, however, with slightly more than 25 tweets per week.

The Top Tweeters

Drilling down into individual candidates’ accounts we can see the top individual tweeters. The Liberal Democrats’ Steve Beasant is a candidate for Great Grimsby and is a councillor for the East Marsh. His Twitter account is very active, regularly posting links and images to drive engagement. Beasant has a habit of resharing older content, however, such as in this example.

You can find the top tweeters’ accounts here:

Liberal Democrats’ Kavya Kaushik
SNP’s Natalie McGarry
Plaid Cymru’s Vaughan Williams
UKIP’s Rog Tallbloke
Labour’s Jess Phillips
The Green Party’s Lee Williscroft-Ferris
Respect Party’s George Galloway
The Green Party’s Murray Sackwild
Labour’s Karl Turner

Looking at the top tweeters by party (including Others) we get the following:

What were they saying?

We’ve pulled out the hashtags that candidates were using during the first week of the campaign. Unsurprisingly, #LeadersDebate dwarfed all of the other hashtags used in the first week of the campaign. After that, the candidates dug in along party lines, with hashtags such as #VOTESNP or #labourdoorstep dominating.

WrestleMania 31 took place in Santa Clara, California, on March 29. The hashtag #WrestleMania was used by two Green Party candidates and one Labour candidate. Three independent and other party candidates also tweeted about WrestleMania.

Labour candidates mentioned David Cameron’s name 721 times during the week. They only mentioned Ed Miliband 551 times. On the other side, Miliband won. His name was used 597 times by Conservative candidates, versus 533 uses of Cameron.

What were they sharing?

Some of the week’s biggest stories leap from the data when the most shared urls are isolated. The Telegraph’s report that the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon had privately indicated that she backed David Cameron for prime minister was one of the biggest stories on the Friday of that week. Zero hours contracts became a talking point when Labour’s Ed Miliband pledged that Labour would severely restrict their use. Martin Freeman appeared in Labour’s first election broadcast. All of these, along with links to party websites and other articles, made the top ten most-shared links.

Labour’s political broadcast featuring Martin Freeman was among the most shared links

            Top Shared Links By Party

See what the parties’ candidates were sharing below:

Conservatives — Conservatives’ Website
Labour — The Telegraph: Sturgeon backing Cameron Leak
Green Party — The Telegraph’s Twitter tracker
Liberal Democrats — Liberal Democrats’ Website
UKIP — Amazon link to Great British Eurosceptic Immigrant by Przemek Skwirczynski
Plaid Cymru — Plaid Cymru website
SNP — SNP website
Other — My MP YouTube video: What if Politicians Worked for Us?

Week 2

Candidates are people too

Monday, April 6, was a Bank Holiday in the UK, and despite a Conservative blitz on tax and pensions changes, the parties’ Twitter outputs reflected the holiday. There were a total of 6,647 tweets on Monday, 1,582 fewer than the average daily rate for the rest of the week, and fewer than the number sent on Saturday and Sunday. The graph below shows the daily Twitter output from the candidates, with each point on the graph representing a 15-minute interval.

Week 2 tweets at 15-minute intervals

The Scottish leaders’ debates on Tuesday and Wednesday nights were the most active periods of the week. Activity during the broadcasts didn’t come close to the traffic seen during the week one ITV leader’s debate, however, with a maximum of 1,598 tweets recorded during Tuesday’s live debate on STV.

And the candidates managed to miss the #MoustacheGuy meme that swept the internet on Tuesday night. Just two uses of the hashtag were recorded on that date, from Scottish Green Party candidate Sarah Beattie-Smith and SNP candidate Pete Wishart.

Early to bed

By looking at average hourly tweets on a party-by-party basis across the full week, we can track which candidates are most likely to get online early, or tweet into the early hours. The graph below show average tweets per hour, by party, over the course of the full week.

Total weekly tweets per hour

UKIP candidates tweeted later, sending 12.3 percent of their tweets between 11 pm and 3 am. The second latest tweeters, Independent and Other candidates, sent 11.7 percent of their tweets during that time.

Welsh Plaid Cymru candidates hit their strides earlier than others. They sent 13.3 percent of their tweets between 6 am and 9 am. Their closest competitors were UKIP candidates, with 10.3 percent of tweets sent during those hours. On the other end of the scale, SNP and Other candidates started latest. They sent 6.9 and 6.3 percent of their tweets respectively between 6 and 9 am.

Every party’s candidates reached peak-tweet between 9 pm and 11 pm. Labour, UKIP and the SNP all sent the most tweets on average during the hour ending at 11 pm.

Who’s tweeting #BadChoiceFuneralSongs?

The most used hashtags during week two didn’t throw up a lot of surprises. Each of the parties’ slogans and #GE2015 dominated the list. But removing those, we can see some of the issues that occupied candidates’ time.

Top 10 non-partisan hashtags

Some of those hashtags may need an explanation. #ReadOnGetOn relates to a children’s literacy campaign, which the Liberal Democrats have supported. #ConstituencySongs, from “Sexual Ealing” to “Hove Will Tear Us Apart,” were trending during the second week of the campaign. #OLSX is a hashtag associated with the Occupy London movement.

Further down the list, a few unusual hashtags, including #BadChoiceFuneralSongs, #RuinADrink, #MarvellousMutts and #AddABodyPartToAFilm, were tweeted by election candidates.

What the candidates are sharing

The most shared individual link from candidates during the second week of the campaign was an information sheet from Andy Higgins, an independent candidate for Blackpool, who sent the link to his followers 125 times.

Here are the top 10 most shared links across all candidates:

Top 10 most shared links from all candidates

Andy Higgins aside, the Green Party’s election broadcast was the most shared campaign video during the second week of campaigning.

But which media sites are each of the main parties’ candidates linking to most often? The BBC, The Daily Mail, The Independent, ITV, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sun, and The Times are widely shared by candidates across the board. Looking at just those sites, we tracked how often each party’s candidates shared content from them.

Most shared news site links by party

Which party leader has the most buzz?

During the first week of the campaign we tracked how frequently Labour and Conservative candidates were talking about each other’s party leaders. The graph below looks at how often seven of the top parties’ leaders are mentioned by their own party members, and by their rivals.

Leader mentions by party

How We Did It

Sources and sorting

We monitored the Twitter activity of candidates across all of the UK. Using information obtained from the YourNextMP database, we sorted candidates’ Twitter handles into lists based on party. We then tracked these lists over time to determine: Who tweeted when? What hashtags were being used? What links were candidates sharing?

The Others category includes independent candidates, Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) candidates along with other candidates from small parties across the UK.

Caveats

We are working to identify original tweets sent directly from candidates. As such, Storyful’s dataset excludes direct RTs — retweets sent by hitting the RT button — but manual copy-and-paste retweets have not been excluded.

Note: This piece was originally published as two separate pieces for storyful.com. The first can be found here, and the second here.

About the Authors

Peadar Grogan and Donie O’Sullivan are journalists at storyful.com.

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