Election forecasts are a difficult beast. Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory prove that. Relying just on analysis from the “political middle” could lead to some rather misleading predictions. EURACTIV Germany reports ahead of Sunday’s (24 September) crucial election.
A lot of this seems to be influenced by gut feeling in elections. The chances of candidates and party positions are linked to their own experience of the world. Especially when the voices heard from the vast stream of information available are the “emotionally” loudest.
Above all, the extreme parties, which are either underrepresented or missing from the mainstream media, disproportionately use the demographic age structure of social media users and their willingness to “comment” and “like” to paint a picture in their favour.
But how realistic are all these elements in predicting the outcome of Sunday’s election?
The Handlesblatt Research Institute, together with the University of Passau and the Social Sentiment Index Project, under the umbrella of EU funding programme Horizon 2020, evaluated what the “feeling” on Facebook et al is regarding the elections.
This has allowed them to produce a mood barometer that shows not just what is being talked about online, but how politicians, parties and policies are being discussed.
Eight EU countries, including Germany itself, Italy, Austria, Ireland and Belgium (EURACTIV) were involved in studying German sentiment towards the top candidates, political parties and issues.
According to Jan Kleibrink, a senior economist at the Handelsblatt Research Institute, first analysis shows that extreme parties have tried to keep social and integration issues permanently and “loudly” dominant on social media.
It has seen a certain amount of success, as media discussions during the election campaign show. On the other hand, areas like education and pensions are relatively few and far between, since they are issues that speak to older electoral groups.
Since 22 August, live data has been recorded in the mood barometer. Using a scale from -1 (extremely negative) to +1 (extremely positive), an analysis has been created using comments on Facebook and Twitter about attitudes towards issues like migration, foreign and financial policy.
How Germans actually feel about them and are influenced by numerous factors can be read there. While the online community is seemingly more positive about social issues than before, three days before the election, sentiment towards the Alternative für Deutschland’s main candidate is dropping.
Migration has stabilised in the lower positive range but the big winners are the CDU, followed by the FDP, the SPD and the Greens. The AfD and the Left clearly occupy the lower range of the “positive” scale.
Is it actually possible to see how the German electorate will turn out and vote on Sunday though? Certainly not. “This tool is not being used for election prediction but is an additional analytical tool for use with classic elections prognoses,” explained Kleibrink.
What the barometer does show, however, is that the topic spectrum of the election campaign has certainly been influenced by social media.
Anyone spreading topics loudly on social media are heard and listened to. Whether what has been heard is translated into voter action will only be revealed on Sunday.