Candidates sending 2,000 tweets a day – but what are they saying?

Today Europe Decides launches a series of Twitter lists curating the accounts of more than 500 confirmed candidates for the European Parliament elections.

These lists already reveal some interesting insights. One thing is certain: expect many more Marietje Schaakes and Sophie in ‘t Velds in the next parliament.

Over the past five days, almost 10,000 tweets have been sent. Some candidates are particularly prolific: Oliver Rosengren, a candidate for the Swedish Moderate Party, has posted 300 tweets in just five days.

However, surprisingly few of these 10,000 tweets – about 300 – directly mention the European Parliament elections. Instead, candidates are talking about (and positioning themselves on) issues ranging from Ukraine, Syria and Iran to the economy, healthcare, energy and opinion polls.

View our candidates lists on Twitter

Strong opinions can be found. One tool that we use to measure the sentiment of tweets shows that more than half the tweets demonstrate either a positive or negative sentiment.

To provide some context, if you analyse all tweets (by candidates and non-candidates) that directly mention the European Parliament elections or use the main election-related hashtags, only 34% are seen to have a negative or a positive sentiment. A couple of examples from a Labour Party candidate and a Green Party candidate in the United Kingdom:

‘Sentiment analysis’ tools are imperfect and are constantly being developed, but it is clear that candidates are sharing strong opinions. So if you want to know who to vote for in May, Twitter is a good place to start!

Most candidates have yet to be announced and so we should take care when comparing parties or countries. But if we look at those countries where the main parties have selected their candidates (such as Sweden or the UK), we can already start to draw some conclusions.

In the UK, the Eurosceptics are on top. The leader of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group in the European Parliament, Nigel Farage, is the most followed candidate, and three of the top five are from Farage’s UK Independence Party. Another, Daniel Hannan MEP, is another famed critic of the EU. Labour’s Richard Howitt MEP is the only pro-EU voice in the top five.

The renown achieved by Farage and Hannan – not least through their use of Twitter (and YouTube) – shows the problems faced by candidates from other British parties. While Farage in particular gets a lot of media attention and has a large Twitter following, rival candidates in other parties tend to be less famous domestically (and less followed) – especially when compared to their counterparts in other European countries.

[Paragraph edited on 25 January] In Sweden candidates enjoy fewer followers than British candidates and only two candidates have more than 10,000 followers. In first place with almost 28,000 followers comes the founder of the Pirate Party in Sweden, Rickard Falkvinge (number six on the Pirate Party list), followed by the third-placed Centre Party candidate Fredrick Federley, who has more than 21,000 followers. The next most-followed candidates are Social Democrat MEP Marita Ulvskog and Gunnar Hökmark, a Moderate Party MEP and a vice-chair of the EPP Group.

But will all this activity stop after the elections – as famously happened with the account of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy after the 2012 presidential poll?

It seems unlikely. Less than five per cent of the candidates in our lists opened their account within the past six months. They were using the service before their campaigns, and are likely to continue afterwards, elected or not.

Indeed, building up a following – even when the chances of becoming an MEP are slim – is a good way to ensure a higher position on a party’s candidate list for future domestic and European elections.

The lists we have created are work in progress, and we expect there to be mistakes, given the large numbers of candidates involved. Please let us know if you have any comments on the lists.

And if you want more detailed information about anything written here or about what the candidates are saying (2,000 tweets a day is a lot to read!) then please send us an email.