Can you predict what people are thinking based on analysis of online debate?

That’s the question a company called, somewhat improbably, Onalytica have set out to answer in their paper, Using the Internet as a Market Research Database.

They’ve summarised their key findngs thus:

1. Changes in daily election poll results could be estimated by measuring the changes in the relative amount of online discussion
2. We find that ‘traditional media’ maintains a high level of influence, and that the influence of ‘social media’ was small
3. The Lib Dem’s performance was similar to that of a new brand entering an established market place
4. Labour and the Conservatives had a joint interest in preventing discussion of the Lib Dem’s
5. ‘Bigot gate’ surprisingly hurt Nick Clegg a lot – not just Gordon Brown
6. Gordon Brown was unpopular; and changing sentiment towards him during the campaign was correlated with Labour performance

Much of this comes under the catageory ‘as expected’. Point number 5 did, however, interest me – that the switch of attention on the leaders away from Nick Clegg to Gordon Brown was a major reason why the Lib Dems’ campaign lost traction in the last week.

It’s sort of counter-intuitive – most of us at the time assumed that the then Labour leader’s labelling of one of his voters, Gillian Duffy, as a ‘bigot’ would torpedo his party’s campaign. However, Onalytica assert that the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg suffered from the limelight moving on, and never recovered. I still find it more likely that a combination of media focus on the prospects of a hung parliament, and the drip-drip impact of the right-wing attacks on Nick personally were bigger issues – but it’s an interesting alternative hypothesis.

Another interesting assessment is the verdict that Nick Clegg’s brand was not closely associated enough with the Lib Dems for the party to benefit from his increased popularity:

… the success of the Clegg product did not translate into equal success for the Lib
Dem’s brand. … from 6th April until 6th May, there was always more influential debate on Nick Clegg compared to his peers, or than there was for the Lib Dem’s compared to Labour and the Conservatives. Relative to David Cameron and Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg’s Share-of-Influence increased from 20% on the day before the first televised debate to 35% one day after. However, the increase for the Lib Dem’s (relative to the Conservatives and Labour) was not as significant rising from 11% to only 17% over the same period.

This discrepancy suggests that Nick Clegg was not tightly associated with his brand. The data lends support to the notion that if the party had taken action to align the brand further with their leader, it is not inconceivable that overall performance could have been improved.

Again, this may not surprise: after all, over three debates many voters felt they had got to know Nick. But it’s much more difficult to know a political party that’s not been in power for 80 years in the same way. Similarly, David Cameron’s ‘brand’ has nearly always out-polled the Conservative ‘product’.

That the Lib Dems were not tightly associated enough with their leader is an interesting counter-point, though, to the Liberator thesis (which to an extent I share) that the party made a mistake by focusing on Nick Clegg and ditching the ‘joint ticket’ of Nick and Vince Cable which the party had been building for the previous two years. Though it might be added that Vince’s brand identity with the Lib Dems is, I suspect, weaker even than Nick’s.

Finally, there’s a table I can’t resist producing. I don’t understand its methodology or scoring (or therefore its credibility), but as it shows Lib Dem Voice as among the 20 most influential sites in the UK general election 2010 I produce it for posterity regardless:

Though the Caledonian Mercury wins it for me ever time 🙂

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This entry was posted in General Election and Online politics.
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28 Comments

  • Is there any way to calculate how Nick Clegg brazenly lying to the electorate affected the outcome? Would he have won more votes if he’d have told people what he actually believed and intended?

  • Grammar Police 1st Aug '10 - 4:30pm

    @ Mike, I presume you mean on the deficit?

    What should a senior MP do when he / she has doubts about a policy line is party has (I’m genuinely interested)? What should he / she do if they change their mind, and they think circumstances have changed?

    Given that party policy/GE manifestos are compromises, I would be surprised if there weren’t things that senior MPs/activists felt more strongly about than others. Of course, Nick, Vince et al, are now part of another ‘compromise’ (the Coalition Govt) where the general view on the deficit/timing is different to what a purely Lib Dem policy originally was. Heaven forfend, but there are probably Tory MPs who were closer to the original Lib Dem position.

  • @Grammar Police: They should lie, should they?

    Let’s look at the facts, in order-

    1- The Liberal Democrats campaigned against cuts this year, right up to voting day.

    2- In coalition discussions with Labour, the Lib Dems wanted cuts this year against both manifestos.

    3- They finally agreed to a coalition with the Tories with cuts this year.

    4- Nick Clegg said that he changed his mind on cuts this year in a discussion with Mervyn King on the 15th of May, days after he agreed to them with the Tories and argued *for* them with Labour.

    5- Mervyn King said that nothing new came up in that discussion. Clegg was lying.

    6- Nick Clegg goes on TV and says he changed his mind before the election, possibly as early as March.

    He’s a liar. He sent you out campaigning for a position he didn’t believe in. He’s entitled to change his mind, but he’s not entitled to go “Thanks for the votes, but what you actually voted for yesterday was the opposite of what I think.”

    The question shouldn’t be “Can you preduct what people are thinking based on analysis of online debate?”, it should be “Can you predict what Nick Clegg is thinking based on what he says?” The answer would be “no”.

  • Mike, everything you say is true, as the LibDems know only too well. These LibDems were enthralled with the idea of a bit of power; in the hours and days after the election they would have agreed to anything the Tories demanded (and they did!) in order to get that little bit of power. They are just another bunch of Tories, and just as despicable.

  • Roger Shade 1st Aug '10 - 5:44pm

    Actually according to the Daily Telegraph on the 11th Jan 2010 Vince Cable said “The time to start cutting the budget deficit and its speed must be decided by a series of objective tests which include the rate of recovery, the level of unemployment, the availability of credit to businesses and the government’s ability to borrow in international markets on good terms”.
    Unemployment has been falling since the election the rate of recovery appears to be accelerating (although I would like to have seen more evidence) and there are concerns about the Governments ability to borrow on good terms in the International Markets. Whether this is the right time to start cutting is in my opinion questionable but I would dispute that the Lib Dems campaigned on the slogan no cuts this year, you clearly are mixing them up with Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling (who wanted to start cutting anyway).

  • Grammar Police 1st Aug '10 - 5:45pm

    @ Mike, I’m not suggesting people should lie or have lied.

    I’m suggesting that people changing their mind is neither unheard of nor terrible, and also asking what you feel is appropriate for the leader of a democratic party to say he disagrees with the party line on a particular issue? I think it’s perfectly understandable that during the middle of a campaign a leader or a senior MP doesn’t just tear up the agreed line. Especially if at that stage he *just has doubts* (and maybe always did).

    I’m not necessarily claiming that Nick’s position is enviable or entirely right. Just because Mervyn King claims he said nothing new doesn’t mean that Clegg is lying that this is what/when he finally changed his mind. Clegg may have been edging towards changing his mind before that point, based on discussions with the Tories, doubts he already had etc. As for believing Ed Balls (and I’m not entirely inclined to) that the Lib Dems were arguing that any coalition should include earlier cuts, that could easily have been in line with our policy – as the Lib Dem position on the question of timing was actually based on “the economic evidence available”, we were never dogmatic about cutting now or not. Like much centrist policy, the position was quite nuanced.

    Actually Mike, IMO the biggest issue is not the timing of cutting the deficit – but instead the extent.

    In any event, I hope you are equally critical of Cameron abandoning stuff on inheritance tax or watering down the immigration cap, and a Labour leadership who’s chancellor previously said that the cuts should be “deeper than Thatcher” and saw a VAT increase as the way forward, who now oppose both?

  • Grammar Police 1st Aug '10 - 5:46pm

    @ Roger – I was writing my previous post as you posted this – the quote from Vince is exactly the point I was making . . .

  • @Roger Shade: There are plenty of sources showing Cable and Clegg saying that there should be cuts this year. If you want them I’ll find them, but I think it should be enough that they’re saying themselves that they changed their position. Remember that their go-to excuse immediately after the election was that they got in and everything was worse than thought, anyway, not that things are better than thought.

    @Grammer Police: Alistair Darling wanted a VAT increase, so what? He didn’t get the party to agree. I am of course equally critical of David Cameron jumping at the chance to throw away the policies he campaigned on, he’s as unprincipled as Clegg.

    And about Clegg changing his mind on the 15th of May- he said himself in the “5 Days” programme on Thursday that he actually changed his mind before the election, possibly as early as March. So by his own admission that wasn’t true, it doesn’t matter that you don’t trust Ed Balls, Ed Miliband and Peter Hain. We don’t need to speculate on why Clegg changed his mind after the election, he *said* that he actually changed it before the election on TV on Thursday.

    And what do you mean about the extent rather than the timing? Do you want more cuts or less?

  • “I think it’s perfectly understandable that during the middle of a campaign a leader or a senior MP doesn’t just tear up the agreed line.”

    If that leader then intends to ditch that agreed line, it should be made clear. This wasn’t a compromise with the Tories- he was arguing for it with Labour too. This was what he (and his cohort) wanted, by his own admission, before the election but waited until the votes were in to tell the electorate.

  • http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jul/29/nick-clegg-changed-mind-cuts

    There’s an article about Clegg’s lying about early cuts.

    And when you said that it was the extent of the cuts that bothered you more than the timing, I hope you weren’t saying that you wanted less cuts, as Clegg told the Spectator that the Lib Dems would deal with the deficit purely through cuts, compared to the Tories’ 80/20 split. Search for “Clegg: Heir to Thatcher” in the Spectator.

  • Grammar Police 1st Aug '10 - 8:14pm

    @ Mike – the Darling thing is key, because I don’t remember him announcing as Chancellor that he disagreed with the Government line not to increase VAT. He kept quiet even though he disagreed with it. And in public he would, and did, argue against VAT increases that were required by the Tory spending plans. Clegg was in the same position of disagreeing with his party.

    What is also clear is that Clegg’s view shifted, it was a process. That’s a perfectly valid way to come to a decision, you start of thinking one thing, but over time your view shifts (not all decisions are reached this way, but some are). Very few of us could pinpoint a moment when your view changed, but very few of us are spokespeople for a public body with an agreed policy line on particular issues (although as a manager I regularly speak up for company policy that I don’t personally agree with, and if at any point I was put in charge I would change).

  • .Mike
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jul/29/nick-clegg-changed-mind-cuts

    Congratulations! You win today’s prize for posting The Link to That Guardian Article.
    (Tho’ I haven’t read any other posts today and someone else may have beaten you to it.)
    I look forward to seeing it posted again on a new thread tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after…..

    Timing of cuts is a non-issue for anyone but economists, who can’t agree when is best.
    As for changing minds:
    22 May 2009 … Foreign Secretary David Milliband admitted the invasion had damaged Britain’s standing by leaving a legacy of ‘bitterness, distrust and resentment’ across the Muslim world.
    9 Mar 2010 … Britain’s decision to back the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 earned it respect in the Middle East, says David Milliband
    That’s David Miliband, who now wants Labour to “move on” and not be bogged down by arguments about the Iraq War (too inconvenient all round).
    While the the two Eds have suddenly discovered they were opposed to it all along…

  • @Grammar Police: “the Darling thing is key, because I don’t remember him announcing as Chancellor that he disagreed with the Government line not to increase VAT. He kept quiet even though he disagreed with it. And in public he would, and did, argue against VAT increases that were required by the Tory spending plans. Clegg was in the same position of disagreeing with his party.”

    That isn’t the same at all. Darling wasn’t going to- and wasn’t in a position to- pretend to agree with the Labour line and then over-rule it immediately after the votes were in. The Lib Dem approach was settled until the votes were in and then completely reversed by your leadership.

    “What is also clear is that Clegg’s view shifted, it was a process. That’s a perfectly valid way to come to a decision, you start of thinking one thing, but over time your view shifts (not all decisions are reached this way, but some are). Very few of us could pinpoint a moment when your view changed, but very few of us are spokespeople for a public body with an agreed policy line on particular issues (although as a manager I regularly speak up for company policy that I don’t personally agree with, and if at any point I was put in charge I would change).”

    Look at that timeline- Clegg said at first that he changed his mind on the 15th due to a conversation with Mervyn King, days after his party argued for cuts this year with Labour. He lied. He later said he changed his mind before the election, possibly months before. Yet right up to the moment that the votes were counted your party campaigned on a position of not cutting this year. I’m not second-guessing Clegg here, I’m repeating what he himself has said. It completely ties in with those rumours from senior Lib Dems that Vince Cable never believed in delaying the cuts even as he said that was the policy.

    Are you seriously happy that you went to vote on May 6th having been told that cuts this year would be “economic masochism” and then two days later the leading cabal of your party was arguing with Labour for cuts this year, a position Clegg had arrived at according to himself before the election? Vote for Clegg, he stands for A! The day after he’s against A and if you don’t like it you can vote differently in five years time. The Lib Dems treated the electorate with sheer contempt.

  • @Cassie: You don’t get it. People are entitled to change their minds (Those two stories are disingenuous, however- you don’t think that the Middle East has one uniform reaction to the Iraq war do you? Both of those opinions are valid.)

    Even if those two stories did show that Miliband had changed his mind- can you not grasp that there’s difference between saying one thing and then once you’ve changed your mind another and saying one thing, changing your mind, yet continuing to say the first thing until the votes have been cast before putting the second thing into policy?

    What is not on is what Clegg and the upper echelons of the Lib Dems did- pretend not to have changed their minds, possibly for months, possibly they never believed it in the first place, and then reveal that your mind had changed once the electorate had gone to vote on the previous policy.

  • Mike:
    the topic for this thread was: “Can you predict what people are thinking based on analysis of online debate?”

    But you decided to bang on about the Guardian article – which was totally off-topic.
    Just as others have ALREADY done, on at least two other threads, that also had nothing to do with the subject.

    You are entitled to your opinion. I’m sure there are lots of places where people will agree with you. The Guardian website, for instance.

    My main point to you – and the others – is that every time someone starts a thread on Trident, or ID cards or in this case, online debate, someone now comes along and says: “Nick Clegg lied, and here’s a Guardian article where he admits it.”

    Yes, we’ve seen the article. We saw the TV programme. We know what you think about it. We don’t need you or anyone else to keep linking to the same article.
    You have basically taken over a thread to talk about your pet topic of the moment.

    As for “am I happy that I voted..?” Given that my vote counted for squat in a safe seat, it didn’t matter whether I voted or not. But given that alternatives of voting in an all-Tory government, or sticking with one that started an illegal war and chipped away bit by bit at civil liberties in the name of ‘security,’ then I’m good with it.
    The whole country knew BEFORE May 6 that NONE of the parties was coming totally clean about the cuts they’d have to bring in afterwards, because they knew it would cost them votes. It’s maybe the only election ever when the entire electorate knew they weren’t being told the whole story by whoever they voted for.
    Old argument, done to death on many previous threads.

  • “Old argument, done to death on many previous threads.”

    This is the new politics is it? Clegg admits to blatant lies and a dishonest campaign, and we’re supposed to just note it and move on? Pathetic.

  • Cassie, it is annoying when the punters talk about stuff that is important to them, and refuse to discuss what you would like them to! You and your party are being collectively incredibly naive. A majority of those who voted for the LibDems feel very strongly that they were taken for fools. I am one of them. We did not vote the way we did in order to enable Cameron and Osborne to run the show, but that is what has happened. I have followed elections since 1964, and the leadership of the LibDems this year produced the most duplicitous and unprincipled performance of any political party since then. Clegg, Cable, Huhne, Hughes et al. were so excited about LibdDems having a bit of power they were willing agree to any terms the Tory party demanded. The Tories are being propped up by the LibDems – the party that I voted for. That is not what I remotely had in mind at the ballot box. I will not be made a fool of again.

  • floatingvoter, you have got it spot on. The LibDem people have a very big problem in tthat they are refusing to listen.

  • Grammar Police 2nd Aug '10 - 10:06am

    @ DaveN/Mike et al,

    It’s not “annoying when the punters talk about stuff that’s important to them” but it’s boring when an individual(s) push a point dogmatically, again and again on thread after thread regardless of relevance. Mainly because I don’t know what they hope to achieve, I think they just liking having a go at the Lib Dems and think they’ve found something to do so about.

    Bear in mind I tried to engage with Mike on this (despite it being nothing to do with the thread), but he’s not interested in things that point out the flaws in his argument, he just bangs on with the same point.

    Message to self, advice I’m always bad at taking: don’t feed the trolls.

  • Grammar Police 2nd Aug '10 - 10:22am

    @ Mike

    “That isn’t the same at all. Darling wasn’t going to- and wasn’t in a position to- pretend to agree with the Labour line and then over-rule it immediately after the votes were in. The Lib Dem approach was settled until the votes were in and then completely reversed by your leadership.”

    How do you know Darling wasn’t going to? Are you he? He could have done exactly that as Chancellor, just as Blair did on tuition fees after a manifesto that ruled them out. Others in Cabinet supported it (eg Mandelson). It’s exactly the same. It’s also exactly the same as any other policy compromise the Tories/Lib Dems have made in the Coalition agreement. If Clegg hadn’t gone into negotiations with the Tories to form a coalition Government where discussion and debate on this point was required then he would just have begun the internal debate to change the policy line amongst the shadow cabinet and party at large – and nothing more would have been said. Certainly no accusations from Labourites about “lies” (the minute Ed Balls pretends to be a paragon of virtue we know something is wrong in the world, quite simply why we should believe him I don’t know).

    People’s views on things are generally not fixed in stone and debates continue. Lib Dem policy (as shown by the Vince quote) was always to cut at the appropriate time, not the dogmatism of Labour or the Tories. During the campaign, it was generally agreed that now was not that time, and we campaigned on that. I’m fairly sure that inside the shadow cabinet debates continued as to the approach on the economy – as events changed. Clegg began to have doubts, and changed his mind/was convinced of evidence at some point during/after the campaign. As the leader of a party he couldn’t dictate the party line, but as one of a negotiating team for coalition Government he could agree to compromise – which is what he did.

    Actually, it’s pretty brave of him to admit he changed his mind imo.

    I know you want to find evidence that the Lib Dems deliberately campaigned on a manifesto they had no intention of trying to implement – as that suits the narrative you want to see. However, all there is is evidence that a man said we’ll do A, providing the evidence suggests A is right. He became convinced that the evidence did not suggest A was right, and changed his position accordingly.

    How very Keynsian of him: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

  • Instead of a futile defence of the indefencible, why don’t you LibDems try… “yeah, we screwed up utterly, and to the 60+ of the people who voted for us and subsequently, within five days of the election, regretted doing so (some sort of record?) we offer a hearty apology. I realise you view our party as ‘Tory scumbags”, “human shields” and unprintable nouns. I will not attempt word sophistry in our defence. You are right. I am leaving the party. I apologise once more.” ….
    Thought from DaveN, it is a blessing that Jo Grimond cannot witness this pantomime.

  • @Cassie: It is a major thing. There is not a thread for it here, it has been brushed under the carpet.

    @Grammar Police: Don’t be so ridiculous. If you think I’m a troll then don’t post and let people who want to talk about the issue talk about the issue.

    You’re completely wrong in your points-

    1) That Darling wanting a VAT rise is “just the same”.

    Like I said, no it isn’t. How do I know that he wouldn’t have raised VAT? I don’t know for certain. I assume he would have kept to what was agreed with the party and figures senior to he. How do I know that Darling wouldn’t have stripped naked and rubbed himself all over the door of number 10? I don’t. If he had done so I would not be happy. The difference is one has happened in your mind only, one has happened in reality.

    2) That it was a “compromise”.

    It wasn’t a compromise. Clegg eventually admitted that he changed his mind before the election- who was he compromising with then? The negotiating team were arguing for cuts this year with Labour- who were they compromising with then?

    3) He would have begun the internal debate.

    This is a mental point. The Lib Dems decide on a position through their internal party democracy, the leadership changes its mind, pretends still to follow the decided line until it comes to the formation of policy when it does the reverse. Seriously you must be in thrall to your leadership if you can equate steamrolling over an agreed position with starting an internal debate on it. Is “internal debate” just code for “the leadership has changed its position. Now say how much you agree with it” in Lib Dem land?

    4) “Actually, it’s pretty brave of him to admit he changed his mind imo.”

    Ridiculous. So this scenario is brave-

    Before the election: “Vote for us! Early cuts are economic masochism
    On election day: “Still no change in policy! Go out and vote for this manifesto!”
    After the election: “I know you voted for a party that was against early cuts but I changed my mind on the 15th of May and we’re cutting now.”
    Last Thursday: “Actually I changed my mind before the election, I just didn’t tell the electorate.”

    That is brave?

    “How very Keynsian of him: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?””

    You can’t be serious. Like I said before- he’s allowed to change his mind. That isn’t the issue. The issue is changing his mind, not telling the electorate, having people vote on a manifesto that he’d already changed his mind about, and then instituting the policy that he’d secretly changed his mind to.

    Watch this video: http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/politics/domestic_politics/lib+dems+aposwill+not+back+early+spending+cutsapos/3578857

    Can you not understand how despicable it is? When a voter hears- “Self evidently I think, we think, that merrily slashing now is an act of economic masochism,” Clegg said. “So if anyone had to rely on our support, we were involved in government, of course we would say no, do it sensibly.”

    Can you not understand how it is galling that Nick Clegg either changed his mind without telling us or didn’t think that in the first place? Can you not understand how “of course we would say no” could lead a voter to think that they would say no?

  • >It is a major thing. There is not a thread for it here, it has been brushed under the carpet.

    It was raised on two other threads already. You could have continued either of those, given they’d already gone off topic, rather than hijack a random third.

    Just because you want to talk about something doesn’t mean everyone else has to when they were trying to talk about something else.
    It’s like a group of people talking about cricket in a pub and someone coming up and going off on one about the price of petrol. Then they start to talk about a TV series – and up pops someone else to talk about the price of petrol. However worthy the subject of petrol prices, the interruptions get annoying.

  • Cassie, your protesting is quite pathetic. I believe it was Harry Truman who said “if you can’t stand the heat……………….”

  • @Cassie: Then don’t reply to my posts Cassie. You replied under no duress did you? Don’t want to talk about it, don’t talk about it- it’s quite easy.

  • There are many Libdem voters like me waiting for the next polling day to tell Nick Clegg what we think. I think we should all vote against AV to put Nick back where he came from i.e. the wilderness.

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