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UEL big data academics suggest Twitter predicted reduced support for Conservatives

Research by a UEL professor and his assistant found that tweets produced the week before the General Election showed higher levels of negative sentiment for Conservatives

An analysis of hundreds of thousands of election tweets the week before voters went to the polls on 8 June showed consistently higher levels of negative sentiment for the Conservatives and warned of diminishing support for Theresa May and the Tories, UEL Professor Allan Brimicombe has discovered. 

The University of East London (UEL) big data specialist and his assistant analyst, Ms Larissa Kostiw, a UEL MSc Data Science graduate, analysed Twitter sentiment every day from 31 May until 8 June. 

Professor Brimicombe said, “It’s easy to say that Twitter is representative of a younger demographic, and not the whole population. And the fact that there are lots of fake accounts, or bots, pumping out political messages is well known.

“But from our analysis it was clear that the data was telling us support for the Conservatives and Theresa May was rapidly declining."

He continued, “This is very different to conventional polls which asked fixed and often direct questions to which respondents might not answer with the complete truth. 

“We’ve use hundreds of thousands of tweets to dig beyond the semantics of the chat to the underlying sentiment of each tweet. I think this then gives a pretty reliable reflection and as we have seen, reacts very quickly to events, like the jump to 54 per cent negative tweets for Conservatives the morning after the London Bridge terror story broke.”

The researchers analysed Twitter sentiment, namely the sorts of hashtags and words used in connection with Labour and the Conservatives, categorising them as either positive, negative or neutral. 

Some of the sample was also mapped onto geographical maps of the UK, if the tweet had a geo-location tag turned on. The tweets showed where support and criticism for each party was coming from around the UK.

Ms Kostiw thinks that their research will be of particular interest to younger voters, as they are more likely to be on Twitter and take note of what is said on the platform.

She said, “The samples we’ve used are also much bigger than conventional polls, and it’s striking that polls told us the Conservatives had a high level of support, while our data was telling us the opposite.

"In the end our Twitter analysis has reflected the outcome of the swings but at a much earlier stage of the campaign”

The results of the election, announced on Friday 9 June, revealed the Conservatives has won 318 seats (shown on the map above in blue), but lost their overall majority. Labour secured 262 seats (shown in red on the map).