If tweets were referendum votes then, come June 23rd, the UK would be departing the EU. Looking at the period beginning early 2016, spanning the official launch of both the ‘Brexit’ and ‘Bremain’ campaigns, and culminating in the London mayoral election, it is clear that the latter, #StrongerIn Bremain campaign enjoys a small but significant lead in the number of unique accounts pledging support. However, it is the Brexiters that appear more ardent in their beliefs and more vocal in their call to arms, tweeting roughly twice as much as their Bremain counterparts.
To try to gain a greater understanding of the distribution of Brexiters and Bremainers throughout the UK, the socioeconomic context in which they exist and the correlation (if any) between Twitter activity and actual referendum outcomes, we have created a model that combines the absolute number of tweets, the number of unique accounts and the total populations for each local authority district (LAD).
LADs known to have concerns regarding high levels of immigration and demonstrating above average support for UKIP, the country’s Eurosceptic and right-wing populist party, were (somewhat predictably) Brexit strongholds. Burnley, Eastbourne, Hartlepool and Bournemouth all ranked highly in Brexit ratios and all fit this profile. However, UKIP voting alone was not a definitive predictor of Brexit performance.
Clacton, Boston, Thurrock and Rotherham all recorded high levels of UKIP support in the 2015 election but do not appear at the forefront of the Brexit campaign as fewer residents utilise Twitter and those that do tweet with low frequency.
Brexiters also tended to lean Conservative and showed strength in traditionally Conservative strongholds such as Woking (one of the safest Tory seats in the country), Northamptonshire South and West Dorset. The results for Manchester, however, ran counter to this idea of traditionally more conservative populations favouring a departure from the EU. An ultra-safe Labour seat and beacon of multiculturalism, its inhabitants had relatively more unique Twitter accounts and total numbers of tweets in favour of the Brexit campaign – though, admittedly, the number of the Bremain accounts was also high.
The #StrongerIn camp was, in general, more predictable, led by university towns with a strong base of Labour support (Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff and Exeter were frontrunners). Scottish urban centres also leaned in this direction. Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland’s most populous cities, showed a predominance of support for the remain campaign by unique Twitter account numbers but almost even number of tweets for both camps.
These results come from a preliminary analysis of the data and it may be that as the volume of referendum-related Twitter content increases in the approach to June 23rd, so the results shift. Of the top seven most populated places in the country, only one – Manchester – sits definitively in either camp. The other six remain undecided but with strong showings from each camp. It is in these large urban centers where the Twitterendum will be most intense, and we expect this to be highly contested in the coming weeks.
Of course, tweets are not votes. Twitter users do not reflect the UK population as a whole. Twitter users account for roughly a quarter of the population (23%) and tend to skew young and urban. Perhaps most pertinently, Twitter may be less representative of the British because of something inherent to Britishness. Twitter is very much a public soap box and, for a nation so often aligned with a strong sense of propriety, it is not everyone’s cup of tea.
So, while the Twitterendum results should not be used as an analogue to real voting attitudes, these observations can still provide an interesting barometer through which to measure the winds of sentiment sweeping the nation. As the debate heats up in the coming weeks and traditional media becomes saturated, we’ll continue to turn to this model to see what further insights we can glean, so please join us for regular updates of our Twittterendum coverage!
Lucas Galan currently serves as the Head of Analytics Productization at W2O Group’s London office. Connect with him on LinkedIn!