General election: University of Sussex to analyse the impact of Twitter on marginal seats on the south coast

University of Sussex researchers will use ground-breaking 'intelligent' technology to scan and analyse thousands of political tweets during the UK general election campaign. 

As the election campaign officially gets underway, researchers will be investigating the impact of social media on the battles for 15 key marginal constituencies on the south coast, including the UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s bid to become South Thanet’s MP and Caroline Lucas’ (Green) fight for re-election in Brighton Pavilion. 

Experts in the University’s Informatics Department have developed unique software, called Method52, that uses complex algorithms to analyse and understand thousands of tweets to give a detailed portrait of public opinion on a particular issue. 

With the Demos think tank, they have set up the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) to learn how to ‘listen’ to conversations on social media. 

They have already successfully used the technology to analyse ‘cheers’ and ‘boos’ during the 2014 football world cup, to monitor online misogyny, and to deduce the ‘winner’ of last year’s debates about Europe between politicians Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage. 

Now they have joined up with media and politics academics to undertake this wide-ranging study of Twitter’s role in the battle for Downing Street, focusing on possible swing seats across Hampshire, Sussex and Kent. 

Professor Ivor Gaber, Professor of Journalism at the University of Sussex, is leading the project. He says: “I don’t think we can say that this is ‘the social media election’ - tweets don’t win votes. As with all new communication technologies, the change is gradual. 

“But I think that almost everybody agrees that social media will be very noisy in the campaign, which gives us a rich, largely untapped, resource to undertake some interesting analysis. 

“For example, will we see a discernible ‘issues agenda’ that arises from social media? How will the different parties use tools like Twitter? What will be the balance of negative, supportive and humorous content? 

“We have focused on the south coast because of its importance to the major parties and newcomers alike. If polls and forecasts are right, around half of the seats we are looking at could change hands.” 

As well as analysing tweets, the team will also track key Facebook pages, blogs, YouTube videos, and party and candidate web pages. 

In addition, local, regional and national media will be monitored to pick up all references to social media activity during the election campaign. 

CASM has also partnered with the Sunday Times to provide weekly analysis of the major digital moments of the 2015 general election campaign. 

Notes for editors 

Professor Ivor Gaber: 07730 955690; ivor.gaber@sussex.ac.uk or @ivorgaber. 

University of Sussex press office: James Hakner and Jacqui Bealing – press@sussex.ac.uk; 01273 678888. 

The full list of coastal constituencies being studied is:

  • Kent – Dover, Folkestone and Hythe, and South Thanet
  • East Sussex - Brighton Kemptown, Brighton Pavilion, Eastbourne, Hastings and Rye, Hove, and Lewes 
  • West Sussex - Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, and East Worthing and Shoreham
  • Hampshire – Eastleigh, Portsmouth South, Southampton Itchen and Southampton Test

By: James Hakner
Last updated: Tuesday, 31 March 2015

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