EU Ref Reactions Pt 2

Two weeks ago, DI analysed social media data on the EU Referendum which you can read here.  With one day to go we decided to compare the latest figures from this fortnight and see if there was a new story to be told.

Everyone is talking about it!

Of the 9.1million mentions recorded in the last two months, a staggering 4.1million of these were posted in the last two weeks. This shows an increasing number of people and volume of posts expressing opinions and entering into the debate.

#Leave remains the most popular choice, especially with men.  

 change over time

While both more men and women are discussing #leave more than #stay we note that there has been no change in the stay/leave ratio for women across the last 4 week-period.

Within the last 2 weeks there has been a 2% increase in males stating their alliance with the ‘leave’ campaign. Does this mean that the debates and information has helped to change men’s minds, or have they just become more vocal over the past 2 weeks?  Further examination of the data would be required but that is for another blog!

However…. #Stay images drive the highest levels of engagement

This is where the data starts to tell a slightly different story. The tweets with the highest number of shares two weeks ago were all humorous in style, making fairly harmless jabs and showing a general lack of understanding around the EU Ref (and not really addressing the significance of it).

Since then, the tone of conversation on socials has dramatically changed to a much more serious one. The top tweets include a very poignant image of immigrants attempting to enter the UK and being prevented from doing so; which has sparked the #strongerin supporters to label the #voteleave supporters as racists. An image posted by the late MP Jo Cox of her with her family supporting the ‘stay’ campaign in the Battle of the Thames has gained great traction with the #strongerin supporters. And an image of Boris Johnson struggling to play the guitar fits within a meme culture. What is interesting here is that while the organic conversation taking place (ie the individual tweets sent) is much higher for the #leave campaign, the most shared tweets are all in support of the #stay campaign. While the supporters of this campaign may not be expressing their own individual opinions, they are clearly affiliating themselves with the campaign, using these powerful images to explain and confirm their association.

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Here comes the science bit…

As highlighted in our previous blog, human behaviour is influenced by our perceptions and willingness to speak out publicly on morally loaded issues. The Spiral of Silence theory notes that perceiving public support for their own views will increase individuals willingness to speak out, while perceiving themselves as part of the minority will cause them to fall silent (Neumann, 1974). Studies on this theory reveal that encountering agreeable political content predicts speaking out, while encountering disagreeable postings stifles opinion expression.

This appears to fit with our findings that while there is less organic content from the #stay campaign, it may be because people are not willing to share their views on a public forum like Twitter for fear of reproach. However, instead of posting organic content, many are happy to ‘badge’ themselves by sharing content which represents their views or that at least disassociates them from the views/stance that they disagree with.

And, with the #stay campaign not offering anything new to the people, it’s a difficult sell and not easy for people to express a new or unique opinion on! Let’s be honest, no brand would spend millions on an ad campaign to promote something that will stay the same and make absolutely no change to your life! But we aren’t talking about brands here, we are talking about expressing political opinions which is of course very different.

How do our findings compare with the polls?

Our data is based on a cross-section of the population that have firmly made their decision and who choose to post on public forums, making their opinions known. If you took our data to be a representation of public opinion, then there is no doubt at all that Britain would leave the EU tomorrow. However, the official polls tell a different story showing a far closer race between #leave and #stay suggesting that people behave differently when asked directly what their opinions are, compared to posting them organically on social media. And our data doesn’t take into account the undecided.

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What we can say is that we carried out similar research around the Scottish Independence Referendum where (from social data at least) it appeared almost guaranteed that Scotland would become independent. Of course we now know that this was not the case. The Spiral of Silence was evident for that decision, and we would assume that the same behaviours will play out on this occasion too.

It’s fair to say that for all the polls, speculation or behavioural analysis, no one knows for certain what the outcome is going to be. Until then the Disruptive Insight team will cast our own votes and wait with baited breath.

We analysed the data using Brandwatch’s social media monitoring platform on data collected on Twitter between 8 and 21 June 2016. If you would like to know more about what we do please get in touch

© Disruptive Insight 2015.