A five-month analysis by Meltwater Buzz reveals which of the UK's political leaders are winning the social media battle.
The report focuses on the volume and sentiment of online buzz for David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, from May to September of this year, searching through more than 200 million sources to provide insight into the popularity of each party leader.
The results show Cameron comfortably dominating conversation volume, but generally attracting more negative sentiment than Clegg. Miliband, despite some early positive sentiment spikes, settles into a largely negative pattern during the remainder of the period.
The study also produces results for two other political figures: London Mayor Boris Johnson and BNP leader Nick Griffin, the latter drawing little volume and mostly negative reaction online.
Meanwhile, word clouds for each leader reveal which subjects characterised their presence in online media. For Cameron, it is 'economy', 'Obama' and 'apprenticeships'. Clegg's is dominated by 'Murdoch', 'schools' and 'Lords'. Miliband's, perhaps unsurprisingly, are 'Murdoch', 'Brooks' and 'impediment.'
Key events in this month include the death of Osama bin Laden, and Prime Minister Cameron's subsequent determination to bring the Afghan mission to an end. Online, Cameron was ridiculed for calling the killing of Bin Laden a “great success”, despite playing no part. President Obama's UK visit also prompted plenty of online activity.
The G8 summit was another focus of online attention, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy calling for greater regulation of the internet. Cameron’s officials resisted the plan, resulting in a spike in discussion across online platforms towards the end of May. The topic of internet regulation would rise to the forefront again later in the year in the aftermath of the London riots
There was also outrage from online users at the revelation that Cameron had called for a ban on gay kissing on television before the watershed. This generated a surge of negative sentiment with social media users branding the Prime Minister ‘homophobic’.
The NHS was a major focus of online discussion and debate in June with an audit revealing that the National Health Service was in need of £200m in bailouts and loans. The government was accused of ‘robbing poor areas’ to increase spending in richer parts, resulting in increased negative online buzz, only accentuated when Cameron's new plan was accused of being a U-turn. Clegg's attempts to defend changes to the NHS saw him drawn into the criticism.
June also saw proposed changes to public sector pensions, prompting a wave of national strikes by unions. Clegg warned that Tories were “bristling” to fight unions, sparking considerable online debate towards the end of the month.
The phone hacking scandal exploded with a vengeance, causing major spikes in discussion and online debate as well as a drop in sentiment towards all three leaders. Cameron bore the brunt of criticism, thanks to his links with was tormer News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Questions were also raised about Cameron's close relationship with Rebekah Brookes and Rupert Murdoch.
London and parts of the UK were gripped by riots, making August the most active month in terms of online buzz, and also one of the most negative in terms of sentiment. As the violence and destruction escalated, Cameron was forced to order a recall of Parliament.
Online activity was also the focus of much media and governmental attention, as it was suggested that the use of social media played a key role in inciting and planning riots. Twitter, Facebook and Research in Motion met with UK authorities to discuss whether social media networks should be closed down during crisis such as the London riots. This sparked a heated reaction among online communities, who pointed out that social media had served as an essential aid to police, and was instrumental in the clean-up and restoration of London and other affected cities.
Compared to August, September was a much calmer month. Online activity coalesced around a potential EU referendum. Despite more than 100,000 people signing an online petition supporting a public vote on the issue, David Cameron rejected the calls.
Towards the end of the month, Ed Miliband was also called to back the EU referendum in the hope that the move could split the coalition. This causes Miliband's online buzz to increase visible compared to quieter volume in the preceding months.