As we pour through the data from Monday's Canadian election, some late campaign movements have been very eye-opening in terms of the factors that likely caused them.
The campaign, for the most part, was fairly stable with the Liberals and Conservatives neck and neck for the top spot, while we saw a steady rise in support for the NDP and Bloc that occurred after the debates on October 7th and 10th. But online trends started to change on Thursday the 17th as discussions of two particular topics increased and became the focus of online discussions over the weekend leading up to Monday's vote.
The first was a significant increase in climate change discussions. As these discussions increased, they coincided with an increase in Liberal sentiment and support, and a decrease in the same measurements for the NDP. At the same time, the Liberals were pushing the message that a vote for anyone else would hinder climate change initiatives. The change in support and sentiment indicates the messaging resonated and was successful in driving some changes in voter intention.
A second factor that is hard to ignore is President Obama’s endorsement of the Prime Minister that explicitly mentioned climate change. Liberal online mentions linked to the endorsement immediately increased after it was posted, along with a corresponding increase in sentiment being expressed towards the party.
As the election results show, the Liberals exceeded most predictions for their seat count, indicating that there were some ballot box decisions revolving around the issue of climate change made in their favour, much to the detriment of the NDP. The data seems to indicate that timely and effective messaging played a large part in those decisions.
The Ohio debate took place in the middle of a changing Democratic primary as Joe Biden’s hold on the frontrunner position was starting to be viewed as tenuous with some polls showing Elizabeth Warren in the lead.
Given the changes, the debate saw many candidates performing in new roles. For Warren, she had to demonstrate her ability to perform as a potential frontrunner, while for Biden, it was an opportunity to regain his momentum and lead in some of the polls. At the same time, many eyes would be on Bernie Sanders after his health issues, and others would be watching to see which of the candidates polling in the single digits would be able to gain momentum.
Based on online discussions, Joe Biden’s performance was not what he needed to rebuild his lead in the polls. As in all of the debates to date, Biden was the subject of the highest share of online discussion, but the sentiment of those discussions was among the most negative of any of the candidates. Elizabeth Warren was the focus of many of the more pointed discussions on stage, and it resulted in a lower than normal sentiment for her.
Bernie Sanders scored well with positive sentiment on the third-highest volume. After the top three, Yang, Buttigieg, Gabbard, Harris, O’Rourke, and Klobuchar all generated a similar amount of online mentions. Yang scored the highest overall sentiment, while Buttigieg and Klobuchar also recorded positive scores. Gabbard, Harris, and O’Rourke were all in negative sentiment territory, while Booker, Steyer, and Castro were unable to generate significant volumes of discussion.
As we have for the past two sets of debates, we analyzed comments from approximately one quarter million social media accounts. The nature of real-time, short-text comments means that the vast majority of online mentions focused on the candidates, as opposed to the issues they are discussing. However, we sampled our dataset for comments with specific mentions of candidates along with issues to get an idea of how the public reacted to each of the candidates speaking on the key issues.
Healthcare and the question of how candidates were going to pay for their plans generated the most issue-specific mentions during the debate, with Warren being the target for most of the other candidates.
While Warren’s sentiment was just barely on the positive side of neutral, this represents a significant decrease in the very positive sentiment scores she had earned in previous debates on the issue of healthcare. The high volume and lower sentiment combination indicated there is some weakness for Warren on the costing question that a number of the candidates were pursuing against her. The issue also proved to be a highlight Amy Klobuchar early in the debate as she scored well on her public option position.
Pete Buttigieg had the highest sentiment score on the impeachment question while Sanders, Yang, and Klobuchar were the only other candidates in positive territory.
Despite attempting to position himself as the original voice calling for impeachment two years ago, Tom Steyer earned the lowest sentiment of all the candidates, followed by Kamala Harris.
Biden had the worst combination of low sentiment and high volume, indicating his role in the narrative surrounding the inquiry continues to cause him problems.
3) Foreign Policy
With the most volume generated, Tulsi Gabbard was clearly looking to position herself as the candidate with the most to offer on the foreign policy front and used recent events in Syria to make her case. However, her attempts generally fell flat as she recorded a negative sentiment on the issue.
The issue proved to be difficult for all candidates as only Booker and Warren were in positive territory on low volumes. Of the higher volume candidates, Buttigieg had the best (least negative) sentiment between himself, Gabbard, Biden, and Klobuchar.
Various taxation issues made it into the discussion in Ohio, including the question of healthcare costs and their impact on middle-class taxes, as well as wealth tax proposals put forth by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Online reactions favored Biden and Yang when the discussions turned to the wealth tax proposals indicating a relative lack of enthusiasm for the proposal put forth by Warren and Sanders.
5) Gun Control
Just as in the last debates, gun control put O’Rourke in the spotlight, and as been the case over the past month since the September debate, his message was not well received. With by far the most discussion volume, O’Rourke had a significantly negative sentiment score.
Yang and Gabbard scored the highest sentiments, although on minimal volumes on the gun control issue.
6) Abortion Rights
Kamala Harris generated the most discussion with her comments on abortion rights, but they received the lowest sentiment score of all the candidates on the issue.
Of the other candidates who generated moderate volumes, Biden had the highest sentiment while Yang and Sanders scored well on low volumes.
1) Warren was the target of many on stage, and while her overall performance was viewed as neutral, she saw reduced sentiment on issues such as healthcare that were previously viewed very positively for her. Biden’s overall numbers were weak, while Sanders’ had the best combination of volume and sentiment.
2) Yang, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar scored the best out of the candidates outside the top three positions occupied by Biden, Warren, and Sanders. Combined with the general consensus that they were the candidates that stood out on the stage in a positive manner, the debate could provide a shot in the arm for those campaigns.
3) For Harris and O’Rourke, the debate was a continuation of performances that did not resonate with the public online and will likely fail to produce any kind of bump for them.
As the leaders of the six major Canadian political parties gathered for the only English language debate among all six party leaders, there was plenty at stake. With the Liberals and the Conservatives tied in the polls and the remaining parties showing enough strength in specific areas of the country to have a significant impact, all participants had much to gain or lose.
Eyesover monitored the debate in real-time and measured public reaction to not only the leaders, but also some of the issues discussed.
At Eyesover, we focus on the number of people talking about a leader or party by aggregating multiple mentions from the same account. For example, we record an account mentioning a leader 20 times as one “talking about” by averaging the sentiment of the 20 mentions to ensure high volume accounts cannot skew the data. We also disregard retweets on Twitter as well as accounts that demonstrate characteristics of bots or fake accounts.
Our talking-about numbers tend to correlate with results you will see in current polls, and the debate proved to be consistent that concept with the Liberals and Conservatives battling for the top spot and the NDP, Greens, PPC and Bloc following.
When we look at the sentiment being expressed in the discussions about each leader, Jagmeet Singh was the clear winner of the debate. His sentiment started strong and remained that way throughout the debate and post-debate scrums. Elizabeth May also generated positive sentiments throughout the night.
Justin Trudeau had the lowest sentiment score overall, but it did not start out that way. During the first thirty minutes of the debate, both Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier were lower on sentiment scoring. By the midpoint, however, Trudeau started losing ground. By the end of the post-debate interviews, both Scheer and Bernier were not only scoring higher than the PM, but Trudeau remained the only leader in negative territory. Whether the change was due to a weak Trudeau performance or a strong finish by Scheer and Bernier, the result is not one that the PM needed.
2) Leaders v. Issues
In a confirmation for those who claim today’s politics are mostly about personality, we found that 84% of the online comments that mentioned a leader or their party, focused solely on the person and did not mention any issue or topic being discussed in the debate.
This is not an unusual finding as the nature of real-time, short-text comments means that the vast majority of online mentions focused on the candidates, as opposed to the issues being discussed. However, we still sampled our dataset for comments with specific mentions of candidates along with issues to get an idea of how the public reacted to each of the candidates speaking on the three issues that generated the most discussion; Environment, Indigenous Issues, and Human Rights & Immigration.
The environment section of the debate generated the most issue-related discussion among the five themes with the Liberals and Conservatives recording neutral sentiment on high volume. The Bloc had the highest sentiment score but on very little volume.
When we broke out the language that was used, we see that the phrase climate change was significantly negative for the Conservatives, neutral for the Liberals and the NDP, and positive for the Greens.
“Carbon Tax” created negative sentiment for both the Liberals and NDP and neutral sentiment for the Conservatives and Greens.
4) Indigenous Issues
Indigenous issues generated the second-highest volume of discussions, and it proved to be a problem issue for the Liberals and Conservatives as they both had negative sentiment scores.
The Green Party generated the most positive discussion, but all of the other four parties earned very high sentiment scores on the issue, albeit on low volumes.
5) Human Rights & Immigration
In this wide-ranging section, the Green Party had the best sentiment score primarily due to positive comments surrounding abortion access. It also resulted in a very negative sentiment for the CPC.
Immigration discussions trended negative for the Conservatives, Liberals, and People’s Party, while it was generally neutral for the other parties.
Our debate metrics tracked what the polls, and our party support numbers at Eyesover, have been showing; the Liberals and Conservatives are in a dead heat, but not generating much enthusiasm outside of their support base.
It also shows that while the remaining parties have not been able to break through to challenge for the lead, they are all generating positive responses and volumes of discussion in certain areas that could have a significant impact on the election outcome.