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Government / Local politics

Tweets of London: Twitter and the 2016 London mayoral election

Londoners love to tweet. For many, it’s a chance to do many of our favourite activities from the comfort of our own home or office – whether that’s grumbling about delayed trains, stalking the next location of your favourite pop-up, or sharing your prized skyline photo (#nofilter). A city of early-adopters, it’s little surprise that, by 2012, London was one of the top three most active cities on Twitter, alongside Jakarta and Tokyo.

But with the mayoral elections just three weeks away, how are the candidates using twitter and how is twitter shaping the campaign? The Centre for London and the Centre for Social Media Analysis at Demos (CASM) to find out. The project isn’t over – but so far there are three main findings.

1) We haven’t yet reached peak #LondonMayoralElection

An initial review of volume of tweets indicates that there have been a few key moments in the campaign so far – kicking off with the Evening Standard hustings at the beginning of February and peaking with the ITV/London Debate which took place on 5 April.

It’s worth noting that two issue focused hustings – DebateTech, hosted by Centre for London, Tech London Advocates and techUk; and Greener London, organised by a coalition of environmental campaigns – secured Twitter coverage of comparable levels to these multi-issue events.

2) Twitter as megaphone or twitter as telephone?

When it comes to output, Sadiq is streets ahead of Zac. Since February 2016, he’s sent three times as many tweets as his Tory rival.

In fact, the Conservative candidate has sent the fewest tweets of any major candidates, including Caroline Pidgeon and Sian Berry. However, all of these tweets have been dwarfed by fedora-clad twitter giant George Galloway, who has notched up some 6,500 tweets.

Our analysis also tells us quite a lot about how candidates choose to engage with the general public on Twitter. Less than 1 per cent of Zac’s Goldsmith’s tweets have been sent as a reply, with Sadiq Khan faring little better at 1.7 per cent. It is clear that the leading candidates are opting to use Twitter as a tool for broadcasting rather than engaging, with smaller party and independent candidates much more likely to engage directly.

3) Digital discipline is key

However, despite having sent just a third as many tweets as his main rival, Zac Goldsmith and his team appear to have co-ordinated a strong cohort of “digital cheerleaders” – those who have sent a minimum of 50 tweets on the candidate hashtag. This suggests an impressive amount of digital discipline from Goldsmith’s campaign – helped by the use the consistently used #backzac2016 hashtag.

Mentions of Sadiq Khan, on other hand, appear split between a number of hashtags, including #labourdoorstep and #teamKhan.  Khan’s campaign may be organised on the doorstep, but appears that their social media campaign could do with greater co-ordination when it comes to pushing campaign messages out online.


Over the next four weeks, Centre for London and CASM will be publishing further analysis, covering topics including which campaign issues are featuring most frequently, and how policy announcements and hustings performances have been received on Twitter.

On 4 May, we will also be hosting an event featuring highlights from our analysis by the authors, with a panel discussion including contributions from Jamie Bartlett (Director of CASM) and Ben Page (Director, Ipsos Mori). You can register your interest in attending here.

Kat Hanna is research manager at the Centre for London. Alex Krasodomski-Jones is a researcher at the Centre for Social Media Analaysis at Demos.
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