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Irish Presidential Election TV Debate Twitter Analysis2018 October 28

The Irish Presidential race has been a popular topic on Irish news and radio over the last 8 weeks.  As the race heated up, more and more people took to Twitter to comment on the candidates. 

The ADAPT Centre tailored its responsive Twitter harvesting tool, ‘SentiWords Tweets’, to provide automatic real-time generation of the quantity and sentiment associated with the six presidential candidates, Michael D Higgins, Peter Casey, Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Liadh Ní Riada and Sean Gallagher.  Tweets containing the main hashtags, example #Aras18, along with candidates names, Twitter handles and campaign hashtags were analysed.  Significant spikes in the volume of tweets were recorded in conversation on Twitter coinciding with the televised debates.  The biggest of these spikes was recorded during the final televised debate with double the number of tweets on the first televised debate. 

RTÉ Prime Time hosted a debate on the 18th October that saw a complete lineup of presidential candidates debating live.  This debate recorded the highest volume of Tweets highlighting the significance of having all six candidates on stage.  Michael D Higgins was mentioned the most, dominating over a quarter of all Twitter conversations with double the volume of other candidates.  The second most mentioned candidate was Peter Casey.  Casey received considerable coverage during the final week of the campaign due to his controversial comments on Travellers.  This coverage was reflected in Twitter mentions as he jumped from the lowest number in the first debate to the second highest number of mentions in the final debate.

The number of Twitter mentions relating to Sean Gallagher suffered due to his absence from the first TV debate as he ruled himself out of taking part if all candidates were not appearing.  Following that he came out to say he would participate in all remaining presidential debates.  In a video on Twitter, Mr Gallagher attributed his change of heart to feedback from the electorate. 

Despite polling badly Liadh Ní Riada’s Twitter mentions remained consistent throughout the course of the campaign.  Her Twitter handle and presidential campaign hashtag recorded over twice the volume of mentions for five of the six candidates, with only Michael D Higgins surpassing her. There was a disconnect however between her Twitter mentions and polling as she only received 6.4% of first preference votes.  

In terms of sentiment associated with Tweets, each of the candidates remained consistent across the campaign except for Peter Casey who saw a 45% jump in positive sentiment relating to the Twitter conversation about him. Overall the Twitter engagement was not consistent throughout the campaign with jumps in activity only seen around debates and with significant media exposure.

 

Posted by: Catherine O'Connor, Head of External Relations, School of Computer Science and Statistics, Trinity College Dublin

catherine.oconnor at tcd.ie