New University of Alberta research is taking the pulse of the provincial election through social media.
A group at the university is measuring the conversation as it unfolds on Twitter, arguing that those tweets amount to something much more significant than online noise.
University of Alberta Prof. Jared Wesley, a political scientist, said it’s not so much what people are saying but which issues they are discussing on the platform.
“What we see is parties trying to figure out, ‘Which issues do voters trust us most on?’ Because for the most part, their party is reluctant to take an unpopular position on an issue they don’t know about or they already know public opinion is made up on, things like public versus private health care,” Wesley said.
“This turns campaigns, from a political party perspective, into an agenda-setting game where you’re trying to get issues that people trust you most on to be talked about most on platforms like Twitter.”
Wesley said left-leaning parties tend to be more trusted on social issues, while right-leaning parties tend to be more trusted on economic and budget issues.
“If you look on Twitter, if people are talking about economic issues, that means the UCP is winning that agenda-setting struggle. If people are talking about social or environmental issues then the NDP is,” he said.
That’s the case even if a Twitter user has a positive tweet about a party regarding an issue that is not favourable to them, the professor added.
“The fact you’re able to lure your opponents into talking about issues and engaging on your battleground is actually a victory for you.”
Using expertise from Darkhorse Analytics, the university group’s data showed a huge spike on March 25 in favour of the NDP on civic rights and education. That spike flowed from the UCP’s education platform announcement, which was criticized for its stance on gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
“It was a case where the UCP wanted to talk about other things other than GSAs, I’m sure, but Twitter didn’t listen to that, and actually, Twitter blew up and the NDP gained an issue ownership advantage,” Wesley said.
Detractors of such research argue that one party could have more favourable results on Twitter because it simply has more supporters on the platform, but Wesley said Canada is a “wash” in terms of who owns Twitter.
“That’s borne out of campaign strategies. Both of the leading parties are investing a lot in their social media strategies, including Twitter,” he explained.
Darkhorse Analytics is helping the University of Alberta team with the research.
Watch below: We’re taking the pulse of Alberta’s election campaign in a whole new way. Jennifer Crosby explains.