If a single topic has dominated the pre-election debate, it has surely been the economy. That the UK is working its way out of the worst recession since the 1930s is well known – what remains uncertain is how quickly, or how effectively, the next government’s policies will accelerate this process.
Much of the debate is taking place on social media. “The economy” earned its place as a top trending topic on Twitter across the last 30 days, according to ElectUK, a new app from Tata Consultancy Services which is monitoring Twitter activity during the election campaign. The economy has made up almost a third (28.4 percent) of political Twitter chatter, only narrowly taken over by “health” over the past few days.
The impact of austerity remains a key battle. Research from the LSE, among others, says that living standards have suffered to an “unprecedented” degree since the recession began. As harbingers of the cuts, the Conservatives are alive to their reputation as “the nasty party” and have used social media to push the message that they are putting Britain back on its feet, in contrast to an “economically irresponsible” Labour. This strategy has seen the party using Twitter to share stats on job creation and heavyweight endorsements from the likes of John Major.
Conservative pledges with regards to the scale of public spending cuts have also received much attention on social media. An ITV news item confirming the next Conservative government would reveal £12bn in welfare spending cuts after the election received more than 900 re-tweets, making it one of the most viral tweets of the economics debate so far.
Yet the ONS says that economic growth can at best be described as “broadly flat” or “rising very slowly”, and not everyone online is buying the assertion that Britain is rocketing towards recovery. According to ElectUK, the most re-tweeted economics quip of the last month came from Channel 4 News economics editor Paul Mason, who said on 11 April: “Why do Conservatives claim ‘economy was contracting when we came to power?’ It took a dive after 2x Osborne budgets.” Re-tweeted more than 2,700 times, it captured the scepticism many have about the Chancellor’s track record.
Labour, meanwhile, has made a bid for public confidence by pledging to cut the deficit year on year, opening their manifesto with a “budget responsibility lock” promising every policy will be paid for without additional borrowing. An economy that rewards “working people” and tackles the “cost of living crisis” have been flagship lines, supported by policies such as raising the minimum wage to £8 per hour by 2019, a fairer tax system, and a price freeze on energy bills.
While Labour has earned supporters on social media by deriding the Conservative’s austerity policies, its own lack of clarity over spending cuts in Scotland found the party hot water. Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy claimed there would be no further spending cuts in Scotland, taking to Twitter on 13 April to say that “only Labour will end austerity” – a statement later refuted by Ed Balls. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon used the gaffe to her party’s advantage, while news of Murphy’s decline to speak with Scotland Tonight to explain the confusion was re-tweeted more than 1,000 times.
Turning to the smaller parties, the Lib Dems have taken the middle road with a pledge to deal with the deficit via a mix of spending cuts and tax rises, including an additional £1bn raised from extra corporation tax on banks. On Twitter the party is capitalising on the hashtag craze, with #strongereconomy and #fairersociety featuring prominently on their press office page.
The Greens have taken a strong stance against austerity and wealth inequality, also promising a minimum wage increase – to £8.10 in 2015 and £10 per hour by 2020 – a ban on zero hours contracts and the introduction of a 35-hour working week. The party’s stance against austerity and spending on nuclear weapons have been among their most well received economic policies on Twitter.
Ukip have used Twitter to plug their “tax cutting revolution”, which includes raising the personal allowance to at least £13,000, taking those on minimum wage out of tax altogether, and even axing the so-called “tampon tax”. While some noise on social media has been positive, others have hit back. The F-word, a feminist website with more than 34,000 followers, tweeted: “UKIP are promising to scrap the tax on tampons. That doesn’t make [Farage] pro-women”.
As a top trending Twitter topic, it is fair to say that economic policies have had a major influence on each party’s popularity on social media. So how do they stack up? Some 24 per cent of tweets about the Conservatives were deemed “positive” by ElectUK over the last 7 days, compared to 22 per cent of Labour-related tweets. Among the minority parties, the Green Party had the largest share of tweets with a positive sentiment (33 per cent), while Ukip nabbed the lion’s share of total conversation, scooping up 37.1 per cent of election-related mentions.
Designed, built and delivered by Tata Consultancy Services, ElectUK turns your smartphone into an advanced social media analytics tool, giving you the ability to identify and share online trends around the upcoming election.
Please note: the ElectUK app is analysing the data and helping to identify trends in online conversations around the election, it is not promoting or criticising any party or political view.