Whether the UK remains in the EU or leaves is the primary political battle of 2016. The LexisNexis EU Referendum Tracker is monitoring traditional and social media coverage up to the vote on 23rd June. This week we look at social sentiment and what influence this will have on voting behaviours in the referendum.
Social media is now central to every political cause with President Barack Obama pioneering the use of it in both his election victories (2008 and 2012). Twenty years ago it was unthinkable that microblogging and online networks of friends and acquaintances would play a significant role in major political issues. Today it is a given and the EU Referendum will be no different.
It is easy to see why social media has become so essential to political debate. The strongest proponent of remaining in the EU (@David_Cameron) has 1.3 million Twitter followers. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and current poster boy for the Leave campaign has almost half a million likes on his preferred social platform: Facebook. The EU referendum debate currently dominates more than 70% of content on both accounts.
Of course we would expect the leading politicians on each side of the debate to use social media to argue their case. What is more pertinent is the conversations that are taking place between potential voters on social sites and whether the buzz that is generated from these provides insight into how the referendum will go.
The LexisNexis EU Referendum Tracker monitors print, online and social media coverage to give a real time picture of each campaign's momentum. Charts are powered by LexisNexis Newsdesk and update every 15 minutes to show a real-time indication of sentiment.
At time of publishing, measurement of social buzz favoured the Leave campaign, albeit only by around 10%. This could still be significant. According to YouGov a typical "Remain" voter is younger and has a higher level of formal education than those that wish to leave. These are also characteristics of people that are more likely to use social media. In other words, people on social media should be more likely to vote to "Remain" in the EU than "Leave" – yet social buzz around "Leave" is more than "Remain".
Whilst politicians have already taken a position on the EU referendum, a significant percentage of the public remains undecided. To date, the debate has focussed on headline issues not details. Both sides, for example, have claimed that victory for them would deliver an improved economy. It is hardly surprising that so many remain undecided when the debate is so superficial.
This is particularly relevant to such a complex issue. In the referendum, people will be asked to answer "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?". This issue covers matters as
diverse as trade with Europe, the UK's own sovereignty, EU regulation, the health of the UK economy and immigration.
Perhaps unsurprisingly immigration is the subject that is generating most media buzz around the EU referendum debate. The news coverage of Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to get into the EU via Greece and Italy may have little to do with the free movement of people within the European Union, but it plays to the concern of those that feel the UK should have more control over its borders and the ability to choose who comes to the UK to work.
It is also interesting that two subjects generating less buzz are regulation and sovereignty. The EU referendum could be seen one of two ways. It could be a matter of principal – around the fundamental question of how the UK governs itself and who decided its rules. Alternatively, the referendum could be seen as a pragmatic choice: neither option is perfect so which is preferable over the other. The volume of social buzz around subjects such as immigration, trade and the economy suggests that this is the more likely debate.
Polling data suggests that around 25% of the population are as yet undecided. With polls close, this is more than enough to swing the result one way or another. The challenge for politicians on either side is to convince enough undecideds that their argument is more compelling and they will be tracking social sentiment carefully to understand which buttons to push to have the best chance of success.
There will be twists and turns along the campaign trail. You can keep in touch with the media and social media sentiment updated every 15 minutes throughout the campaign via the LexisNexis political tracker: https://bis.lexisnexis.co.uk/blog?category=Political0Media0Tracker.
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