THE BLOG

Where Are All the Tory Tweeters?

31/03/2014 14:17 BST | Updated 20/05/2014 10:59 BST

The Twitterati was quick to come to the defence of 'working people' when Grant Shapps, the Conservative party chairman, was accused of patronising voters by attempting to use Twitter to promote the government's budget with the picture below and the instruction to his 76K followers to "spread the word".

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Reactions to the Tweet, that many initially assumed to be a spoof, ranged from outrage to parody and many have commented already that the furore over Shapps' tweet detracted from the otherwise mainly positive reaction to the actual budget.

A look at the stats indicates that the response from Shapps' own Twitter followers was, at best, equivocal with just 428 having 'favourited' the tweet one week on from the original post. Re-tweets run to 2.2K but a quick review of these along with the 3.4K replies sent to Shapps confirms that most are of the negative/parody variety.

With so few willing to step forward to defend the beleaguered Tory, one might be tempted to speculate that Twitter has a predominantly left-wing user base. Fortunately, we have the data to check this out.

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In September 2013, we collected voting intention data from a representative sample of over 8,000 online consumers that we screened to identify social media users for our *SocialLife tracking survey.

If we compare the profile of daily Twitter users with this overall online sample, yes we see a higher proportion of Labour voters in the former (35% compared with 27%). But it is also apparent that Twitter is not confined to left-wingers: 16% told us they would vote Conservative next time which is only 2% lower than the overall average of 18%.

In fact, daily Twitter users do not claim to be particularly political in their views. For example, only 24% say they would attend a protest rally or march if they believed in the cause compared with 22% of all UK adults. And 17% agree that they prefer to keep their opinions to themselves which is also very close to the UK average of 19%. These statistics help to contextualise the very negative response to Shapps' tweet - Twitter is not the sole province of left-wing fanatics by any means. Very few other tweets, from politicians or other 'famous' Twitter users, have managed to alienate so many Twitter users so quickly - and also 'cross over' into more traditional media with even Tory supporting Mail and Express newspaper groups adopting a scathing tone.

One final statistic that helps to explain Shapps' #epic fail is that his use of the pronoun "they" to reference 'hardworking people' would help to alienate daily Twitter users in particular since 51% are in full-time work or self-employed compared with the average of 44%.

The lack of support for Shapps on Twitter and the very loud negative response suggest that the Tories really do have a major social media PR issue on their hands and only time will tell if this comes back to bite them. It will be interesting to monitor whether Labour is able to capitalise and, more broadly, to keep an eye on all parties' use of social media in the run up to the 2015 general election. No doubt, there will be more #epicfails to come.

*SocialLife is Harris Interactive's regular survey of UK social media usage. For further details see: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/uk/Insights/SocialLife.aspx