Opinion: The right is winning on Facebook and votes, but the left on Twitter

facebook and twitterI have been thinking why it seems that right wing parties are more toxic than left wing parties. Is this true? Or is it simply my prejudices? Is there anything in the “shy Tory” phenomenon?

It does seem that popular culture is more left leaning, but I thought some numbers would help us understand society better and also help Liberal Democrats decide who to vote for in the upcoming leadership election.

For this analysis I have used the Facebook likes, Twitter followers and 2015 General Election votes for the following parties: Conservatives, UKIP, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Liberal Democrats, Labour, the SNP, The Green Party of England and Wales, the Scottish Green Party and Plaid Cymru. I didn’t use Sinn Fein because they campaign throughout the whole of Ireland and I didn’t use any other parties that I deemed to be “minor”.

If we look at Facebook likes then we have the following data (to the nearest 1,000):

Conservatives: 516,000
UKIP: 479,000
DUP: 4,000
Total likes for centre-right parties: 999,000

Liberal Democrats: 119,000
Total likes for centrist parties: 119,000

Labour: 332,000
SNP: 217,000
Green Party of England and Wales: 238,000
Scottish Green Party: 52,000
Plaid Cymru: 19,000
Total likes for centre-left parties: 858,000

 

If we look at Twitter followers we have the following data (to the nearest 1,000):

Conservatives: 170,000
UKIP: 110,000
DUP: 13,000
Total followers for centre-right parties: 293,000

Liberal Democrats: 103,000
Total followers for centrist parties: 103,000

Labour: 236,000
SNP: 106,000
Green Party of England and Wales: 146,000
Scottish Green Party: 32,000
Plaid Cymru: 20,000
Total followers for centre-left parties: 540,000

 

If we look at votes in the 2015 UK General Election we have the following data:

Conservatives: 11,334,576
UKIP: 3,881,099
DUP: 184,260
Total votes for centre-right parties: 15,399,935

Liberal Democrats: 2,415,862
Total votes for centrist parties: 2,415,862

Labour: 9,347,304
SNP: 1,454,436
Green Party (including votes for Scottish Greens and Green Party of NI): 1,157,613
Plaid Cymru: 181,704
Total votes for centre-left parties: 12,141,057

 

Even if we categorise the Liberal Democrats as a centre-left party then the centre-right are still winning on votes and Facebook likes. One explanation for why the right are winning on Facebook and votes could be money, but if the left stands for “the many rather than the few” and beats the right on activists on the ground then it needs to be doing better than this.

Ultimately, I think centrist parties have better policies so perhaps we will see these gaps narrow over time. Personally I was quite surprised by the results of this; I expected the Labour Party to be much more popular on Facebook than they are. I am aware I am using a simplistic left-right analysis, but it is still revealing.

 

* Eddie Sammon is a member of the Lib Dems in France and a regular reader of and commenter on Liberal Democrat Voice.

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22 Comments

  • This is fascinating, Eddie. Thanks for posting it.

    I’ve always wondered if, maybe, left leaning parties are statistically more likely to get involved and be activists, rather than right leaning parties. Are there more ’causes’ on the left?

  • Very interesting analysis, though I think there is also a more complex underlying demographic (age, gender etc as well as money) structure which determines to some extent the volumes of activity on different platforms.

  • Simon McGrath 20th May '15 - 2:07pm

    It is surprising about Labour but the Tories were advertising for FB likes so that may have skewed the figures.

  • Glenn Andrews 20th May '15 - 2:12pm

    I’m not sure how this is supposed to help us in the forthcoming leadership election seeing as the choice (so far) is between two Liberal Democrats.

  • This is all of some interest. I fear however that some are getting carried away with the fad of social media.

    What matters is stubby pencils and bits of paper (ballot papers) in polling booths.

    The Conservatives got a majority because the FPTP fruit machine spewed out sufficient seats for them.
    Lkes on Faceook or twaddle on Twitter do not win elections.

    If you do not believe me just look at the percentage of voters supporting the Conservatives between 2001 and 2015.

    Conservatives in 2001 got 31.7% so the fruit machine gave them 166 seats
    14 years later
    Conservatives in 2015 got 36.9% yet the fruit machine gave them 331 seats

    The Conservatives spent a lot of money on using Facebook as a tool to reach voters, especially in the last seven days.
    I am not sure how that expenditure will appear in each candidate’s statement to the returning officer of how much they have spent to buy their seat in The Commons.

  • So the total number of facebook likes and twitter followers is 9.7% of the total number of voters in the recent election then. (Bearing in mind there are probably quite a few people who follow/like more than one party, and more who follow/like on both platforms). So in reality the parties probably haven’t attracted much more than double their memberships to follow/like them on social media.

  • Twitter is primarily used by media types. Facebook is more reflective of the general population.

  • Simon McGrath 20th May '15 - 3:27pm

    @john Tilley
    On the one hand you say:
    “Lkes on Faceook or twaddle on Twitter do not win elections.”
    and on the other:The Conservatives spent a lot of money on using Facebook as a tool to reach voters, especially in the last seven days.I am not sure how that expenditure will appear in each candidate’s statement to the returning officer of how much they have spent to buy their seat in The Commons.”

    Which one is is it?

  • David Allen 20th May '15 - 3:37pm

    Very interesting. Facebook data correlates quite well with actual votes. Twitter data, however, is much more skewed toward the Left and also toward the Lib Dems.

    I would suggest that people who tweet are trying to argue out issues and/or to change the minds of others, things which individual lefties and liberals are keen to do. People on Facebook, by contrast, are thinking of chatting with their friends and just making a statement about what they like. So, Facebook is the better predictor of voting.

    Before the pollsters resign in despair – It’s not that good! In fact, both FB and Twitter show a big bias toward the insurgent parties – UKIP, SNP, Greens – as compared to the old parties – Con, Lab, and yes of course LD as well. That can be attributed to simple news value. Voting for an insurgent is more “worth talking about” than plumping for a same-again party.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 20th May '15 - 3:51pm

    @John Tilley: “I fear however that some are getting carried away with the fad of social media…Likes on Facebook or twaddle on Twitter do not win elections.”

    The social media is hardly a fad, or else it would have gone by now! One’s Twaddle can be another Haiku!

    And likes on social media bring awareness directly to the citizen (be they youth or silver surfers) that really makes articulate their reasons further regarding their views, by organizing their ideas or points within which other ideas can be seen to fit (twitter) we this builds up to a reasonable political conception which can be identified and later on this turns into X’s on a wee bit of paper.

    One platform of participation (social media) is no less significant than the other (paper and pencil), all can be utilities in some form or other to win the political conception and an win election.

  • Matt (Bristol) 20th May '15 - 4:28pm

    I suspect – but have no evidence for – that the demographic profile of Facebook versus Twitter may tally slightly more with the demographic profile of voters.

  • jedibeeftrix 20th May '15 - 4:36pm

    I think there is an important difference between passive use of Facebook and twitter (likes/follows), and active use whereby you engage your social circle in debate using these tools.

    The big story of the election was not how much damage shy kippers would cause, but the raw percentage of society that remains modestly Tory and yet unable to say so. For all that the left wing complains how the Tory media moulds the febrile minds of the lumpen proletariat, it turns out left wing vitriol and bile dominates the wider media (rather than media outlets), and has pushed underground the normal expression of the values of millions. But no, its all the fault of Murdoch and the Daily Mail. I think not! Across the land, people ranted and gibbered on Facebook and twitter at the evil Tories and how they were starving the disabled to death, and no one noticed how many friends and acquaintances stayed silent. So, this ends up not being a UKIP story at all, possibly because they are outcasts on the margins of society already, and therefore have little to lose by saying so.

  • Simon McGrath 20th May ’15 – 3:27pm

    I am sorry that you did not understand.
    The article in The Times covering the comments of Jim Messina, President Obama’s campaign guru, has revealed how the Conservatives used Facebook as a tool to achieving a majority.
    They did NOT do it by asking people to tick the LIKE box. It was a tad more sophisticated but not so very sophisticated that anybody should be able to follow what they did.

    Here is an extract from the article which might help you understand —

    “Almost every public poll suggested for weeks that the election race was deadlocked, but Mr Messina, who was hired by the Tories to help to reach persuadable voters in key marginals, said he was seeing a totally different picture in the battleground seats.
    The Conservative campaign, borrowing micro-targeting techniques from the US, was so sophisticated that in the final week the party was having multiple contacts via Facebook, phone and on the doorstep with individual voters who had been identified as likely to switch from the Liberal Democrats or choose the Tories over Labour.”

    Hope that helps you?

  • People are generally more right wing on some issues than anyone is willing to acknowledge and actually it’s across party lines. Any quick scan of the internet will reveal this very quickly.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th May '15 - 5:25pm

    Thanks for the comments so far.

    Glenn, it is relevant to the leadership election because those who want the party to move towards the centre left are mainly voting for Tim Farron. The Facebook data shows that the younger “social media vote” is not really left leaning.

    I was going to mention the fact that I know the Conservatives and UKIP have put a lot of money into Facebook advertising, but their voters can’t be that shy if they are showing it on Facebook.

    David Allen, good point on the fact that Facebook is showing as more accurate than Twitter for the major parties, but less so on the insurgents.

    Best regards

  • Warning: Many numbers follow.

    I’ve been monitoring these statistics on and off for the last year or so for the main seven parties and the BNP. At the start of the period (14/03/2014) Labour had 24.43% of the Facebook likes and the Tories 25.30%. Initially the Tory percentage seemed to be falling in line with the Labour one, but it plateaued through most of 2014-5 (currently 23.94%, compared to 15.42% for Lab).

    Over the same period the Lib Dem share has fallen from 14.07% to 5.53%. To put this in context, the BNP’s performance over the period fell 15.46% to 8.42%. Plaid also fell slightly, 1.26% to 0.90% (but this masks a recovery over the start of this year from a nadir of 0.79% in December).

    If the Tories have plateaued and Labour, the Lib Dems and the BNP have fallen significantly, the main gainers were the usual suspects:
    Greens (E&W) 4.06% to 11.06%, (Scot) 0.47% to 2.43%.
    UKIP 9.67% to 22.22%
    SNP 5.27% to 10.09%.

    It’s important to remember that all these parties have had net growth over the period, but the fall in Labour’s share compared to the Tories is the most striking and strongly suggests that the Tories may have been using Facebook more effectively than the other parties (the large increases for UKIP, the SNP and the Greens can be explained through their growth in popularity over the period and ‘surges’, but there is no such obvious factor for the Conservatives).

    This is supported by looking at the equivalent data for Twitter. The shifts are much less dramatic than on Facebook (perhaps because “follow” is a more neutral term to “like”), but suggest a significant difference between either the users of the two platforms, or the strategies that the parties employ when using them.

    Both the Tories and Labour have seen a decrease in share (Labour 29.46% to 25.32%; the Tories 24.50% to 18.18%), but Labour have held up rather better. The Lib Dem decline is more gradual (13.78% to 11.07%), and only fell behind UKIP at the start of this year. Similarly, the ‘surges’ are a bit more muted, particularly that for UKIP (9.03% to 11.74%), but even for the Greens (E&W 11.21% to 15.72%; Scot 1.44% to 3.41%) and SNP (6.90% to 11.42%).

    The most interesting thing is that the Tories and Labour have followed very different trends on Twitter to that on Facebook, and I suspect that whilst this reflects the differing nature of the audience on the two platforms, it also reflects what may well be a very targeted use of Facebook by the Tories to get people to ‘like’ their page, helping them to pump out their message.

    The extra data Facebook holds on people (age, education, jobs, location, other likes) enables very sophisticated targeted political advertising, compared to the more basic info held by Twitter. If the Tories have been making good use of this, it would certainly explain why their share has held up so well on Facebook compared to Twitter and, perhaps most importantly, compared to Labour.

    It might also suggest that the power of political parties to influence their level of support should warn against using this as a measure of left vs. right. Using Eddie’s categories (omitting the DUP as I haven’t tracked them) the centre-right has grown over the last year or so from 41.36% to 50.40% and the centre-left from 41.99% to 43.56%, both at the expense of the centrists, whose support has plummeted from 16.65% to 6.04%. I really don’t think this tells us very much about the changes in political views of the British public over the period in question.

  • Glenn Andrews 20th May '15 - 6:00pm

    @Eddie you say The Facebook data shows that the younger “social media vote” is not really left leaning…. relevant to the election of 2015… After five years of Conservative government I’d wager the opposite would be true in the election of 2020, and given the likely Blue Labourism of the next five years I’d say that Tim Farron would be an obvious choice to take advantage of that.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th May '15 - 7:26pm

    Thanks TAS. Very interesting figures.

    Glenn, that’s fine. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m just saying my opinion and how I interpret the data. I want to stay away from making any bold claims about this. It only really informs us about Facebook and Twitter and as people have said: some parties have been putting a lot of money into Facebook advertising.

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th May '15 - 8:35pm

    Glenn Andrews 20th May ’15 – 6:00pm
    “… After five years of Conservative government I’d wager the opposite would be true in the election of 2020, and given the likely Blue Labourism of the next five years I’d say that Tim Farron would be an obvious choice to take advantage of that.”

    I agree with your point Glenn but would say that Tim Farron is the obvious choice to present clear Liberal Democrat values and policies to the electorate at the next election … where ever the other two parties wander.

    One of the greatest lessons of the last 5-7 years is surely to put more effort into fighting positively for the values and policies of Liberal Democracy and far less into wanting to appear equidistant between ever-wandering Labour and Tory parties and having one eye on our next coalition opportunity.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st May '15 - 11:57am

    Hi Nick. I still think it matters. I agree there are lots of flaws of looking at things like this, but some numbers often help to focus attention. The data is also broadly reflected amongst my Facebook friends, a typical one of whom would be state educated with a university degree.

    Best wishes

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