Monthly Archives: October 2010

Tweet, Click, Vote: Twitter and the 2010 Ottawa Election

It’s 1:30am on October 26, 2010. The Ottawa municipal election is over. I will spend the next week reviewing and analyzing almost 10,000 archived Tweets about the election, but wanted to share some of the preliminary findings now.

OVERALL TWEETING ACTIVITY (01 – 25 Oct)

Total tweets: 9409 (it’s noteworthy that 70 percent of all tweets during this period were generated during the final week of the campaign)

Total tweeters: 1344

URLs shared: 1125 (top URL goes to The Bulldog Ken Gray)

80% (7527) of all tweets generated by 22% (308) of all tweeters

Top 10 tweeters (0%) generated 22% (2094) of all tweets

45% of all tweeters posted only 1 tweet

#OTTvote Tweets (Oct 1-25, 2010)

In the last 4 days of the campaign, 809 new Twitter accounts contributed to the #ottvote feed. It’s difficult to verify the authenticity of these accounts since most of them used non-identifiers. Yet, since a vast majority of them were used to besmirch the online reputations of candidates and their supporters it’s likely illustrative of the role of astroturfing in local politics. Indeed, there were almost 300 more new accounts in the final 4 days of the campaign than the total number (535) that had contributed to the Twitter feed during the previous 20 days.

TOP 10 TWEETERS (volume of activity)

CliveForMayor (356)

willsamuel (322)

ottawasun (237)

OniJoseph (231)

MacDoaker (198)

davidreevely (180)

DenVan (155)

SunCityHall (149)

jchianello (147)

josh_greenberg (119)

TOP @ REPLY RECIPIENTS OR MENTIONS

CliveDoucet (286)

JimWatsonOttawa (266)

CliveForMayor (239)

LarryOBrien2010 (172)

denvan (153)

willsamuel (152)

OniJoseph (104)

Ottawateaparty (100)

josh_greenberg (93)

ctvottawa (92)

TWEET SOURCE

The vast majority of #ottvote tweets were posted from the main Twitter website or via one of the many popular applications (e.g. Tweetdeck). Although only 15% of the tweets were added from a mobile device, I expect to see more use of iPhones, Blackberries and other smartphones in future campaigns not only for contributing content but for following results as well.

Desktop/Laptop – 85%

iPhone/Blackberry/Android – 15%

TWITTER SENTIMENT: TOP 3 MAYORAL CANDIDATES (18-25 Oct)

In the final week of the campaign a significant amount of Tweeter energy was devoted to negatively framing the incumbent and perceived frontrunner. The sharp increase in new Twitter accounts contributing to the #ottvote thread helps explain the heavy negative sentiment scores reported below, particularly for mayor-elect Watson.

Larry O’Brien (1134 opinions)

12% [+]

62% [-]

26% [+/-]

Clive Doucet (318 opinions)

46% [+]

10% [-]

44% [+/-]

Jim Watson (1177 opinions)

20% [+]

50% [-]

30% [+/-]

TWEET THEMES (Sept 1 – Oct 25)

Using the Crimson Hexagon data mining program I developed a coding grid to map the frequency and distribution of primary themes in the #ottvote feed between September 1 and October 25. As can be seen, over this period tweets discussing various aspects of the transit issue (e.g. light rail, ring road, OC Transpo strike, cycling) were predominant, followed closely by tweets which focused on a personality characteristic of a candidate. With a few notable exceptions, these personality mentions were almost entirely negative and focused in almost every case on one of the mayoral candidates.

The next two most common themes mentioned in tweets relating to the election focused on some element of the media coverage (e.g. announcing or commenting on media endorsement of a candidate) or on some type of electioneering strategy (the latter came almost entirely from tweets by candidates, e.g. “I’ll be canvassing in the Byward Market, come say hi!”). Although mentions of development were consistent and modest, I was surprised that more tweets relating to intensification, infill, environmental impacts of new infrastructure, etc. did not garner more attention. Equally surprising was the significantly lower numbers of tweets mentioning taxes or finance compared to other issues. Tweets referring to a range of social issues (housing, parks/recreation, childcare, etc.) netted only 11% of the mentions and tended to cluster around particular dates in which there were higher than normal levels of tweeting about these topics (i.e. Social Issues Mayoral Debate on Oct 8). Finally, although I coded for mentions of crime these did not yield significantly high numbers of mentions.

SUMMARY

It’s important to put case study findings in the appropriate comparative context. Looking at the final week of Twitter activity alone, it is noteworthy that #ottvote contributors generated 6642 tweets about the municipal election. However, their counterparts in other closely watched Canadian municipal campaigns were far more active. Using the hashtag #yycvote, Calgary tweeters generated 18,692 tweets about that city’s election in its final week. Calgary is a reasonable point of comparison to Ottawa – based on 2006 census data, it is Canada’s third largest city (population 988,193) while Ottawa is the country’s fourth largest (population 812,129). In Toronto, where the most exciting and controversial race occurred, tweeters contributed an impressive 33,504 tweets to the #VoteTO hashtag in the final 7 days of the campaign.

I will spend the coming week trying to make sense of these findings. What do these data say to you? Please share your thoughts about the role Twitter played in the election. What did you think were the most and least interesting and effective uses of Twitter? What impact, if any, might it have had on the election process and outcome?

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The findings reported above were generated with two very useful open source data mining programs (Twapper Keeper and The Archivist). The sentiment analysis was performed using an algorithm developed by Crimson Hexagon. I want to thank Melyssa Plunkett-Gomez, VP Sales & Business Development, Crimson Hexagon, for providing access to this excellent program. I also wish to recognize the outstanding research assistance provided by Vincent Raynauld, PhD candidate in Communication at Carleton University.

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Attack in the Capital

The Ottawa municipal election is in full swing. While there are some tight races in key wards of the city, the mayoral contest among Larry O’Brien, Jim Watson, Andy Haydon and Clive Doucet is, not surprisingly, attracting the most attention.

And for good reason: each of the candidates has a very different style and their personalities and distinct policy perspectives will shape the direction and tone of the next council. This is also a campaign that has been full of intrigue, innuendo and at least one bright moment: the early exit of popular Bay Ward councilor Alex Cullen, Watson’s weak attempt to make hay of party politics, O’Brien’s apology for being a “complete disaster” in his first term and his bizarre accusations of a conspiracy theory between the Watson and Haydon camps, Doucet’s gentlemanly conduct at a recent debate toward outsider Jane Scharf, all stand out as memorable.

The campaign has also featured interesting experimentation by the leading candidates with new technology to push content and engage voters. O’Brien has an iPhone app, Watson has strong presence across a variety of platforms, and both Doucet and Haydon have done a lot more than the others in engaging voters via Twitter. Ian Capstick, a media strategist and prominent Ottawa blogger, describes some of these approaches here, including what ordinary citizens are doing to participate in the election season online. Kate Heartfield also wrote a good column in today’s Ottawa Citizen.

A recent poll by Holinshed Research Group shows Watson has a strong lead with 36 percent support of decided voter support, compared to 17 percent for O’Brien, 8 percent for Haydon and 6 percent for Doucet. Importantly, 30 percent of survey respondents are undecided, and it is mostly this group that the front-runners will be targeting as they seek to drive momentum in their favour. Two and a half weeks is a long time in an election campaign, and anything can still happen.

Given this period of opportunity, it is thus not surprising to see at least one of the campaigns taking a decidedly negative turn. This morning, O’Brien’s team released an attack ad focusing on Watson’s record and the very bad things he would do to Ottawa if elected.

Attack ads are widely believed to be a turn off to voters, yet there is some evidence that they work and can even be good for the political process. The political scientist John Geer, author of an excellent book on the history of attack ads, argues that depending on their design and context attack ads can increase voter turnout, that they do the important work of highlighting certain political characteristics of one’s opponents that positive ads by those candidates ignore, and that they provide an important test of a candidate’s ability to respond to high pressured criticism. If Watson is capable of responding to the O’Brien camp’s negative campaign with poise and substance, it will make the incumbent’s efforts appear even more desperate.

These are the big questions:

Are the undecideds likely to be moved by a message of fear or are they looking for a more positive motivation? Will the O’Brien ad shift the tide of voter preference in his direction? Will voters take the O’Brien ad as a personal attack on Watson (which it is not) or as a credible and fair critique of his record in government (which is up for debate)? Will Watson, or Doucet and Haydon for that matter, go negative themselves? Will O’Brien turn up the pressure and attack Watson’s personal characteristics if an attack against his record proves ineffective?

It’s hard to know how voters will respond since we have to evaluate not only the ad itself, but also the massive amount of other information already in the media environment. How voters react will also be determined by how O’Brien’s opponents respond and what the incumbent does next.  We have two and a half weeks to find out.

MORE INFORMATION: If you want to check out ads from the other mayoral candidates, click on the links below.

Jim Watson’s YouTube page here

Clive Doucet’s YouTube page here

Andy Haydon does not have a YouTube page but you can visit his blog here

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