Can Twitter debate become political discourse? | Cardinal Path Blog
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Can Twitter debate become political discourse?

Over the course of the first full week of April, we’ve done a review of the tweets relating to the 41st Canadian Federal Election by examining all tweets containing the #Elxn41 hashtag. It’s difficult to know how much impact these tweets are having on the larger campaign, but we do know lots of people are making use of Twitter to converse about this topic.

With an average of about 15,000 tweets per day over the course of the week, there is approximately 750 tweets on this topic every hour; that’s 12.5 tweets per minute throughout the entire week; we have over 150,000 tweets in April, 2011 posted by 19,400 users. As with the previous work we’ve done, a significant percentage of these tweets are regurgitated by other users; in fact, 51.5% of the 153,000 tweets are simply ‘RT’ – using or commenting on other people’s messages.

During the week, the five word maps that we created were somewhat telling of the conversation, but didn’t necessarily related to election issues. It was clear that Harper is more popular (in Twitter mentions, at least) than Ignatieff, and Ignatieff gets more tweets than Layton, but so what?

The fact that elections are usually a de-facto referendum on the sitting prime minister is reflected in the Twitter discourse. Though the message-writer might support a different view than Prime Minister Harper, the conversation is usually about the Prime Minister. For opposition leaders Ignatieff and Layton, it is less likely that people will include mentions of them in their tweets unless they directly support them or one of their initiatives.


Jack Layton on Twitter – 128 Tweets January 1, 2011 through April 9, 2011


Michael Ignatieff on Twitter – 117 Tweets January 1, 2011 through April 9, 2011

Prime Minister Harper on Twitter – 89 Tweets January 1, 2011 through April 9, 2011

How are the leaders using Twitter?

We can see that each of these party leaders is tweeting at a minimal rate, averaging right around one tweet per day. Before and after the budget announcement in mid-March, we don’t see any major change of pace. Have a look at the following graph which shows the number of tweets by month by each party leader:

How often are the leaders tweeting?


At a glance we can see that things change drastically from month to month, but with the budget announcement in March, we see fairly similar volumes of tweets per month. Apparently, the leaders are still more concerned about increasing their messaging through traditional media outlets around budget time than they are about relaying their views through the Internet.

Who is picking up more followers?


Layton and Ignatieff grew their followers by about 9% while Harper did by about 19% in February over January. The tables turn a bit in March with Ignatieff showing about 30% growth in followers with Layton growing about 25% and Harper about 22% (March compared to February). It will be interesting to see how things shape up throughout April leading in to the election.

Beyond the election, following these leaders will be very interesting. With the overall volume of chatter, discussion, finger-pointing, and challenges taking place on Twitter, it will no doubt be a part of this country’s political debate for several years to come.

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