The last Canadian Federal election was an interesting one, to say the least. It was also one that has radically changed Parliament - the NPD became the Official Opposition for the first time, the Bloc Québécois lost its party status in the House of Commons, the Green Party won their first seat, Michael Ignatieff of the Liberal Party lost his riding and the Conservative Party lead by Stephen Harper will hold the majority of seats. Could we have predicted this outcome through online social media interactions?
This is exactly what we were looking for - if web popularity could ultimately predict the most popular candidates and provide a clear indication of a winner.
After watching and reporting on the election web popularity numbers, social media did reveal changes in popularity for specific candidates, however not in a way that when compared to others would indicate a clear winner. For instance, Jack Layton's spike in poll numbers, according to main stream statisticians, in the last two weeks of the election was also seen in online social media. One may have concluded that since the increase in his followers increased higher than any other candidate he could be seen as an upcoming threat to the leader at the time. Although Jack Layton spike did ultimately give him the second most popular party, the total numbers were still lower than the Liberal's who came in a distant third. Social media only provided trending data that showed the sudden increase in popularity, and if based on percentage of increase, Jack Layton would have won the election instead of coming in second.
A surprising difference in correlation between the Toronto mayoral election and this federal election was the importance of Youtube channel views. Unlike last time, the most popular person online, in relation to YouTube video channel views and Facebook Likes did not win the election. Perhaps Ignatieff’s online supporters didn't come out to vote or there may have been too many false negatives - meaning that people who didn't necessary support him watch what he was doing and didn't support him - to allow for a correlation. The age of each social networking account may have a relation to this. We found that some candidate profiles were much older than others, potentially inflating numbers that may not support the actual election and therefore have a smaller impact on the actual increases.
After the election was finalized and the winners were announced, we looked at each candidate's final web popularity numbers among the different social media properties and found Twitter to have the closest correlation. In the last web popularity poll we conducted for the Toronto mayoral race, we found YouTube Channel views to have the closest correlation to the winner when a similar analysis was conducted. In this election, the winning Conservative Party lead by Stephen Harper had the highest number of Twitter followers, but not YouTube Channel views. Facebook and Google searches had similar relationships; however, when looking at both the primary winner and the others in sequence, Twitter was the closest from a total numbers perspective.
The important message to take away is that social media essentially provides a platform on which to share ideas, opinions and information. Politicians can reach out to supporters and potential supports in a way that is more efficient and somewhat more personal. One cannot make a solid conclusion from the numbers specifically, other than understanding the kind of audience, perhaps their appetite and familiarity with social properties and providing an opportunity to interact with supporters. Assuming that each political supporter has the same number of internet savvy supporters, one may be able to see trends in support compared to the next candidate. I would also conclude that due to the instant nature of social media, changes in followers, views, likes, etc., would give strong insight into the public's interests and preferences. This may even entice account holders like politicians, celebrities, leaders, and others to monitor their reputation online and compare them to others. These brand tracking tools provide a low cost and real-time indication of changes in public opinion. Perhaps we will be able to see stronger correlations with the next election, as more people and politicians alike become more familiar with social media and a larger audience embraces it.