A new set of data has disclosed the extent to which the Labour Party outperformed its Conservative rival on social media site Twitter in the run-up to the 2017 General Election. An analysis of 1,350 individual Tweets posted by the Labour and Conservative parties during the election campaign has found that on average each Labour post received more than twice as many retweets as Conservative ones, giving them a significantly bigger range. The revelation plays into the debate about the extent to which Labour was able to dominate social media before the 2017 General Election, and what role this played in their unexpectedly strong performance.
In total 717 Tweets were posted by @Conservatives, the official Twitter account of the Conservative Party, between 17 March, when Theresa May called the General Election, and 8 June when it took place. They received a total of 124,174 retweets by other accounts. During the same period 633 Tweets were published by @UKLabour, the account of the Labour Party, which went on to receive 295,188 retweets. Thus the average Labour Party Tweet from the period achieved 466 retweets, compared with 173 for the Conservative Party, meaning Labour was able to dramatically outperform the Conservatives in terms of retweets despite posting a smaller number of Tweets.
Number of Tweets per day from the Labour and Conservative Parties. Note the four sharp Conservative spikes which coincide with election debates, and the brief pauses in campaigning (24th, 25th May & 4 June) following terrorist attacks.
Jo Green, a fierce Corbyn critic who ran the Labour Party’s Press Office for two years until the 2015 General Election, noted that he “wasn’t at all surprised” by the data. He explained that “generally speaking, for simple demographic reasons, Labour is able to dominate most social media platforms – this was the case under Miliband, and it has continued under Corbyn”. Green added that a “energetic technologically savvy movement” has emerged around Corbyn, best exemplified by the Momentum campaign group, which the Conservatives are struggling to compete with. However he went on to note that this movement could be a “hindrance as well as a help as Corbyn can’t really control it, and when elements within it turn nasty, and start posting threatening or abusive content, it provides stories for the traditional print media which are terrible for Labour”.
Green’s assessment was largely shared by Matthew Goodwin, a polling expert based out of the University of Kent. He asserted that Labour has had a disproportionately strong presence on social media platforms for as long as they’ve been around, but recently this has been assisted by two new factors. “Firstly Brexit disproportionately angered the young and socially liberal, who have a strong presence on social media sites and in particular Twitter”. In addition to this “the evidence suggests that Labour activists under Corbyn are more motivated than their Tory counterparts, and it isn’t surprising to see this reflected on Twitter”.
Number of Retweets per day by party. Note that even on days when the Conservatives were posting considerably more content (see previous graph) Labour was getting a higher number of retweets.
Labour’s Twitter output was significantly more consistent than its Conservative counterpart. Excluding the periods immediately after the Manchester Arena and Westminster Bridge terror attacks, when campaigning was suspended, it didn’t go a single day without posting a Tweet. It also never posted more than 29 Tweets on one day, as it did on 2 June earning 11,253 retweets. By contrast on five days (17, 18, 25, 26 and 29 April) the Conservative Party Twitter account didn’t post anything at all, but it later reached a peak of 108 tweets in a day on 18 May. There were a number of significant peaks in Conservative output, on 18, 29 & 31 May and 104 June which coincided with televised debates which the Conservative account commented on very heavily.