If Social Data Is A Predictor of Election Results, Doug Ford Is The One to Beat

Over the last week, most of the talk around the Ontario provincial election has been the apparent rise of Andrea Horwath’s New Democratic Party. The topline numbers from a variety of polling firms suggest that the NDP has been gaining momentum (even into majority government territory) as we move into the final two weeks of the campaign.

At H+K, we like to analyze data from multiple approaches to ensure we truly understand what is going on. My colleague Lindsay Finneran-Gingras has been digging into the social conversations taking place over the last two weeks and has some fascinating insights.

I decided to look at things another way: measuring engagement instead of conversations. It’s one thing to tell a pollster you intend to vote for a particular party sometime in the future, but I wanted to see if online actions speak louder than future intentions. If they do, Doug Ford is still in the driver’s seat.

Let’s start will a simple but insightful metric: Google searches. For the last 30 days, more people have searched for Doug Ford than Kathleen Wynne or Andrea Horwath.

Yes, not all searches are positive – Doug Ford searches spiked during the nomination controversy last week – but interest often correlates to voter intent. For example, here is the Google search data for the month leading up to the 2015 election:

Trudeau came out on top in both searches and election results. So from this indicator, Doug Ford is top of mind for Ontario voters.

Next, I wanted to look at social data to see what it tells us. Some of the smarter election observers have noted that the election results on June 7th are all going to come down to whose supporters cast a ballot. If social media activity is indicative of who will come out on Election Day, Doug Ford and the Ontario PC Party are the ones to beat.

If we look at the most commonly-used social channel, Facebook, since the election began, it’s not even close: Ford supporters are significantly more active and engaged by every metric. On just sheer volume of online interactions (likes, shares, comments, etc.) the Ontario PC Party and Ford Nation are on top, by a significant margin:

But we need to factor out relative size of each supporter community, as the bigger the community the larger the number of interactions. We use the interaction rate – the percentage of the community that engages with the page – to level the playing field.

By this indicator, Ford supporters aren’t just the most engaged, their engagement is actually increasing:

Finally, when we look at a concrete indication of positive engagement like average shares per post, we see that PC supporters are increasingly spreading the word over their (fairly flat) rivals:

So if indeed this election is going to come down to who actually shows up to vote, the digital data tells us that Ford supporters are much more committed and engaged than supporters of either Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals or Andrea Horwath’s NDP.

What remains to be seen is if that commitment holds for the next two weeks as we approach Election Day. It will also be interesting to see if measures of online engagement are more accurate predictors of election results than traditional polling has shown to be.