21 March 2012

Can a little bird tell us who will win in Ashgrove?

Analysis of Twitter streams can provide clues to electoral outcomes, according to University of Queensland Masters research student Frances Manfield.

“Traditionally we rely on opinion polls, and to some extent on betting, to predict the outcomes of elections,” said Ms Manfield, who lives in the electorate and works as a consultant for a Brisbane-based communications agency.

“Twitter, because it is live and in real time, provides an ongoing, in-depth profile of what people are thinking.”

Ms Manfield’s research supervisor, Dr John Harrison in UQ’s School of Journalism Communication, said Twitter’s effectiveness in predicting election outcomes was not yet known.

“Opinion polling is expensive, and provides only a snapshot,” Dr Harrison said. “Using sophisticated text analytics software to analyse high volumes of tweets gives us clues in real time about what the electorate is thinking.

“A couple of research projects have been undertaken — one in Germany and one in the UK — but these have been inconclusive, so this research is a world first.

“One of the criticisms of analysing Twitter is that not everyone uses it. However, the huge volumes of tweets generated enable us to map the dynamics of interactions, and to undertake reliable sentiment analysis.

“Opinion polling technique is also flawed. We know, for example, that younger voters are underrepresented in telephone surveys, and pollsters have to perform all sorts of statistical gymnastics to account for that. So the Twitter analysis provides us with an additional source of information.

Ms Manfield said it appeared social media was having a significant impact on the Ashgrove campaign.

“The ALP has been far more adroit in its use of social media, and I think this has been reflected in the closing gap between the ALP’s Kate Jones and the LNP’s Campbell Newman,” she said.

“With Twitter, we are getting authentic expressions of sentiment, we are finding out what people really think. With opinion polls, respondents are asked what they think; whereas tweeting is an action, and probably a much more accurate expression of opinion.”

Ms Manfield’s project uses text analytics software being developed at The University of Queensland.

Comparing the Twitter presence of each of the leading candidates, Ms Manfield said Ms Jones had shown she was not afraid to attack Campbell Newman directly.

Kate Jones’s Twitter presence is impressive,” Ms Manfield said. “Her tweets have become more personal, very Ashgrove-focused and link to a lot of happy snaps with locals. It can be argued that her recent rise in the polls is a result of this tactic.”

In contrast, Campbell Newman’s Twitter presence was stilted: it appeared his campaign team was not keen to engage fully with the social media tool.

“Mr Newman’s tweets — about 90 per cent of which are done on his behalf — are impersonal and usually just a tool for distributing micro press releases rather than engaging directly with the public or the opposition,” Ms Manfield said.

“I would reason that his team is hesitant to engage in dialogue due to a fear of the ‘uncontrollable’ aspect of Twitter and its users.”

Media contacts: Frances Manfield, 0417 635 293; Dr John Harrison, 3346 8234

Frances Manfield is a consultant at BBS Communications Group in Brisbane. She is undertaking a Master of Philosophy under the supervision of Dr John Harrison, Dr Dan Angus and Dr David Rooney at The University of Queensland. Ms Manfield holds a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Political Science and International Relations, and a Graduate Diploma of Communication, majoring in Public Relations and Professional Communication. Prior to working at BBS she was a political staffer for two years at Brisbane City Council.

Twitter facts
• Launched in 2006
• Has 200 million followers (March 2011)
• US President Barack Obama with nine million followers, currently ranks third in the world after music stars Lady Gaga (12 million) and Justin Bieber (11 million)
• Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has nearly one million followers; Prime Minister Julia Gillard has 120,000 followers; former Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull 65,000 and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has 38,000.
• Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has about 20,000 followers.

Memorable Tweets from Ashgrove

@salad1982 12 March 2012
Saw Campbell Newman jogging this morning in Ashgrove. He was surrounded by 5 men also jogging & wearing 'can-do' tshirts. One word: LOSER

@benpobjie 12 March 2012
"Most of those who support Campbell Newman are big celebrities from...OUT OF STATE"

@scotty_mcdonald (96.5 radio announcer) 12 March 2012
Does @Campbell_Newman financial interests matter THAT much to anyone other than Labor dirt diggers? #qldvotes

@gvandersee 11 March 2012
I see @TheQldPremier said that @Campbell_Newman looks like a house elf. That's not very nice Anna. #qldvotes #integrity