Can Social Reveal the Outcome of the Referendum?

Can Social Reveal the Outcome of the Referendum?

By Andrew Hudson

The EU referendum. Bitterly contested in offices, on television and in the press. The demand for balance on broadcast mediums would have you believe the campaigns are neck and neck, while biased print media skews perceptions of where the mood really lies. So what are people really thinking? And can social help us predict Thursday’s outcome?

With Brandwatch, we’ve collated a host of social insights to see what conclusions, if any, we can draw.

First, let’s assess how widespread the conversation around the EU referendum has been.

In the past two months, we recorded more than 9.1 million mentions of the EU referendum on Twitter – 4.1 million of these recorded in the last two weeks of campaigning (including associated Remain and Leave hash tags).

Interestingly the most popular tweets – those most retweeted or exhibiting the most engagement – appear to ridicule or exacerbate leading Leave campaigners with some fairly damning statements:

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And the campaign leaders themselves have garnered their own attention:

  • David Cameron (187, 059 mentions)
  • Nigel Farage (122,535 mentions)
  • Boris Johnson (61,165 mentions)
  • Jeremy Corbyn (42,118 mentions)
  • Donald Trump (37,548 mentions)
  • Angela Merkel (15,710 mentions)
  • Barack Obama (11,922 mentions)

As the Leave campaign’s primary mouthpiece, and amidst speculation about the longevity of his tenure as prime minister in the event of Brexit, David Cameron tops the mentions by quite a margin. Nigel Farage, an admittedly distant second however, still has almost twice as many as mentions as Boris Johnson – both of them on the front line of Leave.

Fourth place onwards is where we start to see some surprises. Jeremy Corbyn has been present by his absence for large portions of the debate, yet easily breaks into the top Twitter mentions – ahead of the Leave campaign’s Michael Gove. The remaining personalities with the most mentions – Donald Trump, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama – illustrat this debate’s influence beyond UK shores.

If Cameron’s significant lead in mentions compared to Gove does make a statement about their respective campaigns, it was most evident following each of their appearances on special editions of Question Time:

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On June 15th, the date of Gove’s appearance, there’s a substantial spike in #Leave mentions compared to the previous day. While impressive, this pales in comparison to Cameron’s appearance. After a dip in mentions, June 19th’s Question Time prompts a spike that more than doubles that of the previous day. The trajectory of #Stay mentions mirrors this, but with consistently fewer mentions and far more stable, consistent levels of conversation – could this be a lack of confidence or a show of complacency by Remainers, whose rhetoric has been far less charged than their Leave counterparts?

But who’s saying what? The graph below shows a breakdown of professions, and percentage of mentions for #Leave and #Stay from each of them.

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On both sides we see very similar proportions of engagement, with marked differences. Professions that require “softer” skills; Teachers and lecturers, artists and journalists for instance, show a far greater affinity with #Stay. Meanwhile executives, who we would perceive as “harder” lead the charge for #Leave – with more than a 20% share of its voice. With so many variables in these demographics however, it can be difficult to draw an accurate, representative picture of where these groups stand en masse.

So can we determine the referendum result? The answer isn’t black and white. Part of the problem we face is categorisation. The nature of a debate is that there are (at least) two sides, each trying to discredit the other. As a result, without analysing every single tweet, we can’t determine what proportion of them are comment or endorsement. Even sentiment indicators can be red herrings, as they can’t account for sarcasm and other disingenuous factors.

That said, we can determine share of voice. using a hash tag can be a clear indicator of support which – in this case – would suggest that the Leave campaign has a far louder voice on social as #Brexit (415,000 mentions) and #VoteLeave (179,000 mentions) surge ahead of #remain (89,000 mentions) and #strongerin (60,000 mentions). Whether that translates to the voting stations is yet to be seen.

Got your own thoughts on the referendum and how the debate’s playing out on social? We want to hear them. Let us know @mycleveragency.

And make sure to check out our other insights from Brandwatch on our blog page.

*Stats correct as of Monday, 2oth June

This post was written by Andrew Hudson

Andrew is myclever™ Agency's copywriter. Like all great writers, he's sensitive, deeply introverted and has a diehard penchant for knitwear.