Credit: Al Waters/Capital News

Wilkinson surges, Watts sinks on social media as BC Liberals race heats up

Analyst says former favourite Dianne Watts has lost her lead in online engagement

  • Nov. 30, 2017 4:15 p.m.

For pundits and political analysts, party leadership races are difficult contests to predict. The most recent example is the 2017 federal NDP leadership race, won by Jagmeet Singh, a relative newcomer who was not on anyone’s radar. The BC Liberal leadership race, to be decided Feb. 3, is no exception: predicting a winner will be tricky, but there are new definitive ways to assess who is leading (p.s. – it’s not Dianne Watts).

Conventional wisdom among political watchers holds that Dianne Watts is the front-runner in the contest. Media commentators spend time analyzing speeches and trying to interpret the significance of each campaign stop. But social media metrics can reveal the state of the race and provide hard numbers on who is leading, and why.

The latest analysis from Social Media ROI, a social media and research firm based in Western Canada, indicates that former Surrey Mayor Diane Watts did hold a lead in social media “share of voice” and extent of media coverage in October and early November. But her lead has since evaporated.

VIDEO: BC Liberal leadership candidates fight to add warmth to ‘jobs’ message

Heralded as an outsider untainted by past Liberal government decisions, Watts is now trailing the ultimate insider: former BC Liberals president Andrew Wilkinson. Other high profile former ministers Mike De Jong and Todd Stone round out the top contenders, with Sam Sullivan and Michael Lee trailing well back in terms of profile and momentum.

SMROi’s analysis of the BC Liberal leadership race focuses on several indicators. The first is media exposure for each candidate, including both traditional and online impressions. Wilkinson leads all candidates in exposure, displacing Watts from her early campaign lead.

“Share of voice” is calculated by the proportion of mentions and the key words associated with each candidate. Wilkinson has recently taken the lead over Watts in terms of share of voice (38%). Watts, who led in October with a 35 per cent share of voice, has since dropped to a 21 per cent share. Stone is currently running third (20% share of voice), followed closely by de Jong, who has a smaller share of voice but commands a larger media presence than Stone. Lee and Sullivan are lagging well behind.

READ: BC Liberal leadership candidates debate different paths for party

The third indicator — the tone of each campaign — is measured by positive or negative sentiments being expressed. These can shift quickly, so they are one of the strongest predictors of ultimate victory. Current sentiment in BC toward Stone and de Jong is improving, while Watts and Wilkinson sentiment is declining.

The final indicator, “engagement,” is measured by the extent of interaction each candidate has with potential voters, including “sharing metrics” such as retweets and Facebook posts, and the gender profiles of followers. So far, the engagement data paints a mixed picture of the leadership race. Despite some emerging negative momentum for Watts and Wilkinson, they have an advantage over the other two major candidates, Stone and de Jong, because they currently have more female followers. Engaging women is vital to winning over the electorate, SMROI maintains.

Regardless of who wins, the leadership race has generated extensive media coverage and stimulated thousands of conversations, with an average of almost 500,000 impressions per day over the past month, peaking recently due to a leaders debate in Nanaimo (1.2 million impressions November 19). Most of those media impressions originated from the Vancouver area (61%), but there is also a strong media presence in areas where the party needs to make inroads if it is to stage a comeback, such as on Vancouver Island, including Victoria (18%) and Nanaimo (6%).

– Bruce Cameron, president, Social Media ROi

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