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Labour candidate Dr Rosena Allin-Khan's Love Actually inspired campaign video. Boris did his own version.
Labour candidate Dr Rosena Allin-Khan's Love Actually inspired campaign video. Boris did his own version.
Image: Twitter

Labour's popularity existed online, but not in real life

Social media was a poor indicator of how this year’s UK election played out.
Dec 13th 2019, 3:15 AM 8,206 5

NOT FOR THE first time, what happened on social media was a distorted reflection of reality.

Despite a strong showing on Twitter and Facebook in recent weeks, Labour looks set to lose dozens of seats following the UK’s election result – at least, if the exit poll result is to be believed.

But although social media wasn’t the best indicator of the outcome of the election, it did appear to show what the biggest issue for voters was: Brexit.

That’s according to an analysis by social media monitoring companies Pulsar and 89up, who looked at election-related trends on UK social media in the weeks after the vote was called.

The two companies examined post engagement, the popularity of parties, leaders and topical issues on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Reddit, as well as in online news, forums and blogs, between 8 November and 2 December. 

Their analysis showed that Labour overtook the Conservatives for influence as the campaign developed, and that Jeremy Corbyn was the most influential politician, with posts on inequality and the NHS driving strong engagement – including shares, likes and comments – for him in particular.

But although engagement with the NHS in general was strong, it was only second to Brexit in terms of online conversation volume: Brexit was mentioned over 800,000 times during the four-week analysis, compared to around 700,000 mentions for the NHS.

In other words, Labour’s attempt to shift the focus of the election away from Brexit looks to have backfired, particularly against the Conservatives’ campaign to “get Brexit done”.

Interestingly, the analysis also showed that social issues such as racism and healthcare resonated with social media users in the UK – but they weren’t enough for Labour to shift the conversation.

Elsewhere, some outlets suggested that images showing queues of students turning out to vote yesterday showed a potential repeat of 2017′s ‘youthquake’, when a huge rise in the registration of young voters coincided with a surge in support for Labour.

To be fair, this analysis wasn’t just speculative: 2.7 million people under 35 registered to vote between the day the election was called and the final date of being able to register this year, compared with 1.9 million people over the same period in 2017.

The thinking was that because younger voters are traditionally more likely to vote for Labour, this would have converted into a stronger performance for the party. 

But a 2018 analysis by the British Election Study seemingly debunked the 2017 ‘youthquake’, noting that turnout among young voters was broadly similar that year to the 2015 election.

This time around, the illusion may have been shattered much sooner.

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Stephen McDermott

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