The recent Australian Federal Elections were tipped by all polls to result in a change of government. But that didn’t happen. The incumbents held on to power, with better margins in a large number of seats. Social media analysis shows a tighter race was brewing.
The unprecedented outcome showed all polls to be wrong
In what has been described as a “massive polling failure”, for the first time in Australian polling history, all polling services predicted the wrong result for the May elections for the Australian Federal Government.
The winning Prime Minister even called his victory “a miracle”.
What went wrong with polling nobody seems to know for sure, with a variety of expert opinions suggesting poor sampling to the end of political polling as we know it. The nail in the coffin of the established pollsters was hammered in by Bart the croc.
Perhaps the worst polling failure came from the Northern Territory, where psychic crocs have successfully picked the winners of the past three elections.
This time around, even Burt the psychic croc chose Bill Shorten to win.
Social media showed a different story
Analysing social media showed a much tighter race brewing. Perhaps that’s where pollsters will turn their attention in the future. If we look at the last week we can see that the volume of mentions on Twitter was about the same.
The various charts plot comments about Scott Morrison – the incumbent Prime Minister – and Bill Shorten – the challenger – on Twitter.
The volume for Morrison was building momentum during the week and reached a peak on Thursday. That may have been when his camp started to realise that their odds were better than the polls were suggesting and their follower base became excited.
Underlying that shift was a changing momentum around the positive sentiment for the two leaders.
Although the average positive sentiment for Shorten was marginally higher for the week than that of Morrison, Shorten’s was falling (down 1.33%) and Morrison’s was rising dramatically. Over the week positive sentiment for Morrison rose 7.29% compared to the previous week.
Looking at an index comprising positive and neutral sentiment over time the trend it can be seen that it was a close race for at least the last week.
This index shows Morrison with a large favourable burst on May 11, and then maintaining parity with his opponent until May 17. On that day Shorten received overwhelming support due to the death of his mentor, Bob Hawke. But Morrison’s lead quickly recovered.
Looking at the gap between positive comments and negative comments there is a similar trend.
This chart shows the difference between the number of positive and negative comments over time as a ratio of the total number of positive and negative comments. The leaders track neck and neck until the death of Bob Hawke on Thursday.
Will social become the bellwether?
The social media data shows that the race was potentially closer than the polls predicted.
Whether this means that pollsters will come to rely on social media is difficult to know. The results achieved from social media depends heavily on sentiment analysis, a notoriously difficult process when slang and idioms are used such as in Australia, and especially in an election.
However natural language processing is constantly improving. And given the last result, using social media analytics may not be worse than the current methods.
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