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WA Votes 2013–Election Day (votes and sausages)

Posted In News, Projects - By On Monday, April 1st, 2013 With 0 Comments

Cross-posted from …and then the world

This post continues my analysis of Twitter data concerning the WA state election, held on 9 March 2013: see this post for an introduction to this project. Previous posts have looked at election-related hashtags, candidates’ posting patterns, and the networks formed between candidates through @mentions, replies, and retweets.

It’s now been over three weeks since the WA state election, which was ultimately won convincingly by the Liberal Party, with a continued swing towards them following their victory in the 2008 state election. Although the analytical posts have been absent since election day, the research has been continuing behind the scenes – as mentioned previously, Axel Bruns and I will be co-authoring a paper about the election as seen from Twitter for the ANZCA conference, to be held in Fremantle in July.

For now, then, a brief return to the datasets to have a look at what happened on election day. In this post, I’m focusing primarily on the #wavotes hashtag, as the main marker used during the second half of the election campaign – later analysis will return to the other campaign-related hashtags and keywords tracked, though. As always with these posts, the usual caveats apply here: the users and views collected are not representative of the general electorate, and not all relevant tweets will have been archived here. The yourTwapperkeeper data capture does not have access to the unlimited stream of tweets from the Twitter API, and in particular, ‘button’ retweets are not always archived. In addition, the network maps do not imply any agreement or support of the users connected (or that the context is an election-specific tweet), but merely that a connection exists through one or more tweets.

Activity using the #wavotes hashtag saw a gradual increase as the election approached, with a previous spike noted during the televised leaders’ debate in February. This is in keeping with other election campaigns covered on Twitter, from Queensland to Scandinavia; similarly, election day itself led to the largest spike in activity, following patterns established in other studies of elections on Twitter. The graph below shows the intensity of the election day spike in #wavotes tweets – jumping from under 2,000 tweets the day before to over 10,000 tweets collected on 9 March itself (see too the similarly dramatic drop-off the day after the election).



If we then look at election day itself, though, tweeting #wavotes does not follow a regular pattern across the entire day. Instead, breaking the day down into hour-long sections, we see that there is somewhat uniform levels of tweeting during the early polling period itself, from 8am onwards, and then increased activity as the close of polls and announcement of results approaches. The results and analysis phase of election day accounts for the main #wavotes coverage here; this is, however, fairly short-lived (decreasing activity after 9pm), as the overall election result itself was called early on the night. Rather than hours of speculation about the possible results, the Liberal Party’s success was evident soon into the count, and commentary instead turned to the extent of this victory.



Not only did election day provoke increased #wavotes activity, but these tweets were also from a greater range of Twitter users. Earlier in the election period, the #wavotes network was focused more directly on the candidates and parties involved in the campaign (with some participation by said candidates, although not to the same extent as in the candidate-specific maps featured in previous posts). However, the heightened #wavotes activity on election day (and the days immediately surrounding it) also generates a network that, in a sense, is more generally covering the election; as the results come in, observers from WA and interstate comment on the trends without necessarily discussing (or needing to discuss) the individual electorates involved. Below is a section of the network map from the #wavotes tweets (based on tweets published between 8 and 10 March, filtered to only include nodes with a degree range of ten or more). As with previous maps, I’ve coloured nodes based on their party affiliation, although only for state candidates. However, the activity by these accounts, with the primary exception of the WA Liberals Twitter account, was relatively minor on election day itself.

To show more clearly the presence of these accounts within the map, then, I’ve set the edge colour to reflect the target, rather than the source, of the edge: a red edge is then directed at a WA Labor account, not necessarily from it (e.g. a tweet mentioning @MarkMcGowanMP). What is then apparent is that, while there was some party-related activity, a lot of the #wavotes connections link users who were not directly involved in the campaign (this includes federal politicians, such as Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, and Julie Bishop (who was a commentator for the ABC on election night)). Instead, further clusters of users are identifiable within the network; one of these I have highlighted below in yellow, which refers to accounts of ABC journalists, and ABC radio and television stations and programmes. Given the timing of this activity around election night, the centrality of analyst Antony Green is not unexpected here; however, the mass of yellow around Green highlights not just that the ABC was a primary source of information for election coverage, but also the rebroadcasting role of many of these ABC accounts – Green’s own tweets were subsequently retweeted by other ABC accounts, and spread further by other users following these additional, regional or town-specific accounts.



While the extent of the swing to the Liberal Party was the story of the election night (if the success of the Liberals overall was not unexpected, the results and close races in individual electorates such as Perth and Midland were), during election day there was concerted Twitter activity on another aspect of the voting process; the democratic act of going to a local polling place, voting, and then partaking in a sausage sizzle. The night before election day, Twitter user @bogurk floated the idea of a central hashtag – #democracysausage – in order to collate information about polling places with or without food options. During election day, as users tweeted the sausage sizzle status of their local schools, churches, and community centres, the relevant details were then used to generate and update a #democracysausage Google Map.

Unsurprisingly, the #democracysausage activity follows a different pattern to #wavotes on 9 March; where the latter hashtag spiked during the coverage of the results, #democracysausage – as an election day activity – peaks around midday (lunchtime!), and tails off as booths close, as seen in the graph below. In particular, the number of original tweets decreases after mid-afternoon – while booths remained open until 6pm, the possibility of sausage sizzles or the need to provide information about previously-tweeted sites may decrease in the last few hours of voting. However, it should also be noted that this was an experimental hashtag with a few hundred relevant tweets in the archive, which was only suggested the night before election day and with further aspects developed over the course of the polling day (many of the retweets here, then, were spreading the initial idea behind the hashtag). The people behind the hashtag and map have expressed their keenness in repeating the project at the national scale for the federal election, which will then provide the opportunity to see whether or not these patterns are replicated. [For more, see the @DemSausage Twitter account.]



About the Author

- Tim Highfield is a Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow in the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT, and a member of the Digital Media Research Centre. His research interests include visual social media and internet and social media cultures. He is the author of 'Social Media and Everyday Politics', to be published by Polity in early 2016.

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