The Political Twittersphere of the UK

The Political Twittersphere of the UKAn analysis of how the constituent parties and members of the UK government differ in their approach to social mediaChris BrownlieBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingJun 28Politics is once again dominating media coverage in the UK, with the Conservative leadership race to determine the next Prime Minister generating a great deal of attention.

A growing trend in the political world of 2019, which is also showing to be a key part of this leadership contest, is the use of Twitter to engage with the electorate.

In particular Jeremy Hunt has been actively utilising the platform to fire shots at his rival Boris Johnson, hosting a Twitter-based Q&A session after Johnson refused a live TV debate.

In a sequel (of sorts) to a piece of analysis I did a while back about Donald Trump and his tweeting habits, I’m going to try and paint a picture of the entire UK Government as it is on Twitter.

To begin with I will look at the basic high level picture, then move on to more in-depth text and network analysis in subsequent articles.

All analysis was done using R and data was either scraped from Twitter using the rtweet package or taken from the parlitools package.

The House of TweetersThere are 650 members of the UK House of Commons, of these 584 have active Twitter accounts.

This leaves 66 MPs who have decided not to engage in the Twittersphere: 49 Conservatives, 13 Labour, 2 DUP, 1 Independent and The Speaker of the House.

Below you can see how the 584 tweeters are broken down by their affiliated parties, arranged by total following.

League table showing the number of combined twitter followers each political party has.

The Labour and Conservative parties are way ahead in terms of numbers of followers — as is to be expected with their huge lead in terms of numbers of MPs.

Conservative MPs seem to be most likely to shun Twitter and not have an account — possibly due to the fact they have the lowest proportion of MPs under the age of 40 (63% of Twitter users in the UK are aged 18–49).

Despite the Green Party having just one elected MP (Caroline Lucas) – who is not even currently the party leader – she has garnered them a significant online following.

Her follower numbers have undoubtedly benefitted from her having a younger party demographic (35% Green party members are under 40, compared to Labour’s 22% and the Tories’ 18%) and her high level of activity on the site (she has posted 22.

5k tweets).

On a side note: all elected MPs in the UK have a combined following of roughly 20m (without taking into account that many of these will be duplicate accounts that follow more than one MP).

This is less than a third of the number of Twitter followers that Donald Trump currently has.

Individual PerformersBelow is a table showing some of the most followed MPs, along with how much of their party’s total following they account for.

League table showing the top 10 most followed MPs and how much they account for their party’s combined following.

As the most followed MP, Jeremy Corbyn has more than double the number of followers of second placed Theresa May.

Despite this huge following Corbyn has, the top 4 most followed Labour MPs (who are the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th most followed of all MPs) account for only 35.

2% of Labour’s total online following.

In contrast, Chuka Umunna and Tim Farron (the 7th and 9th most followed MPs) account between them for 59.

4% of the Lib Dems’ following.

This is largely due to differences in the number of MPs but also shows that smaller parties, like the Lib Dems, may have to rely more heavily on fewer avenues to engage their supporters.

This table again shows the strong online following of Caroline Lucas, as she comes in as the 6th most followed MP, despite her being the only elected member of the Green party.

Late to the partyOne way in which the differences in attitude to social media can be analysed is by looking at rates of adoption.

By this I mean how long did it take for MPs to realise that Twitter could be a key way of interacting with their constituents.

The graph below shows this, for each of our 584 MPs.

Graph showing rates of adoption for each political party.

Each point on the graph is a current MP (as of 29/06/2019).

For reference, Twitter was launched in July 2006.

We can see from this graph that some MPs were extremely quick to get themselves on Twitter – Nigel Evans (Conservative MP for Ribble Valley) joined in October 2007, a year and 3 months after Twitter was launched.

Similiarly Luke Pollard (Labour MP for Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport) joined in December 2007.

After these few early adopters in 2007 and 2008 we see a marked increase in numbers joining from 2009 onwards, particularly for Labour MPs.

Of all the currently elected parties the DUP were the slowest to get online, not having an MP on twitter until Nigel Dodds joined in January 2010 – a full 27 months after Nigel Evans.

The MP to join most recently was Ruth Jones (Labour MP for Newport West) who joined in February 2019, more than a year and a half after the last Labour MP to join – Mohammed Yasin (MP for Bedford and Kempston) in July 2017.

Another interesting feature is the clustering that appears to happen across the years (e.


Labour in 2017).

This could indicate that MPs are either being encouraged to join or perhaps co-ordinating with each other to join at similiar times.

As in the case of Labour 2017 mentioned above, there is also a visible pattern of politicians joining Twitter in the run-up to an election – likely as part of an effort to increase visibility.

For another example of this see the Lib Dems, who almost all joined Twitter in the year preceding an election.

The Early Bird catches the followerAnother interesting metric that I’m going to explore is how quickly MPs garner their online following.

My hypothesis is that MPs who joined Twitter earlier will have had the most time to grow their audience and therefore should – on average – have a larger following.

The graph below explores this idea.

Graph showing the relationship between how long an MP has been on Twitter and the number of followers they have.

The graph suggests that my hypothesis was only half correct and that there are actually three types of MP on Twitter:One group we can see along the bottom of the graph: those who struggle to gain any sort of online following regardless of how long they spend on the platform.

This could be due to many things such as: they tend to be backbenchers who aren’t well known outside their constituency; they don’t interact with the platform very often and they tend to be older (so might not connect as well with Twitter’s younger user demographic).

The second group contains most of the MPs who have more than 30–40k followers.

Here there seems to be a relatively strong correlation between the time spent on Twitter and the number of followers they have.

This group are likely quite active tweeters but maybe aren’t as politically powerful as some of their contemporaries.

The third type of MP is one who gains a large online following, often very soon after joining.

These are the key political players who tend to be more controversial, have more media airtime and are high up in their respective parties.

On the graph you can see three of these in Caroline Lucas (Green), Chuka Umunna (Lib Dem) and particularly Jacob Rees-Mogg (Conservative), who has gained a considerable online following in a relatively short space of time.

Note that there are 5 MPs missing from the graph (for easier visualisation) who would also be examples of the third group mentioned above.

They are as follows (with the number of days since joining Twitter and their follower count in parentheses): David Lammy (Labour, 3852 days, 521k followers); Ed Miliband (Labour, 3619 days, 758k followers), Jeremy Corbyn (Labour, 3408 days, 1.

98m followers); Boris Johnson (Conservative, 1548 days, 614k followers); and Theresa May (Conservative, 1095 days, 864k followers).

Until Next TimeThanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed and found it interesting!.In the next post I’ll be looking at the individual followers of MPs in more detail and how networks of followers interact – for example, how many people follow politicians from more than one party?.As well as this I’ll be analysing the content of their tweets and seeing how vocabulary differs between the major players, as well as identifying if there are any themes within parties.

(AKA A (political) Game of Words)!.

. More details

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