The Clegg effect in the Twittersphere

Lib Dem leader talk of Twitter. His party? Not so much.

Nick Clegg was the clear winner of Thursday night's debate as reflected in yesterday's (proper) ComRes poll and today's YouGov tracker.

What is also interesting to observe is how online attention turned sharply to the Liberal Democrat leader, if not his party.

 

According to our own analysis (see chart above), Nick Clegg was a lowly third in terms of Twitter mentions among the three party leaders the day before the debate. But in the run up to it and, more particularly, in the immediate aftermath his personal profile shot up. Indeed there was far more Twitter chatter about him than either David Cameron or Gordon Brown.

Mentions may equally be negative or positive but as a measure of public recognition, the rise will cheer the Lib Dems as much as the blogosphere, TV and newspaper verdict.

What is equally striking, however, is how little impact Clegg's performance has had on mentions of his party (see chart below). This may be a reflection on the increasing focus given to party leaders and perhaps matters little. The early opinion polls seem to suggest as much.

Nevertheless, it is crucial that Clegg's popularity translates into electoral success, particularly in the 20 key Lib Dem-Conservative marginals. In fact it matters as much to Labour as it does for the Lib Dems, because the Tories will struggle to gain an overall majority without those 20 seats. All of which helps explain why Labour spinners were being so nice about Clegg post-debate.

1. Party leaders: share of Twitter mentions - 14 April
David Cameron 34%
Gordon Brown 47%
Nick Clegg 19%

2. Party leaders: share of Twitter mentions - 15 -16 April
Nick Clegg 38%
Gordon Brown 32%
David Cameron 30%

3. Parties: share of Twitter mentions - 14 April
Conservatives 42%
Labour 33%
Lib Dems 25%

4. Parties: share of Twitter mentions - 15-16 April
Conservatives 42%
Labour 37%
Lib Dems 21%

Note: These numbers are based on how frequently parties and people were mentioned on Twitter between 14 and 16 April, with a number of adjustments to make sure that only mentions relating to the general election are considered. Mentions can be positive, negative or neutral, and should not be confused with popularity. The NS Digital Dashboard is powered by Resolver Systems.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Facebook.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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