Decision 17: Twitter's dramatic differences on final leaders debate

  • 21/09/2017

With election polls showing a race going down to the wire, Twitter has tracked the data on the final leaders debate, which shows dramatic differences between the protagonists.

As National Party leader Bill English and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern clashed in the fiery exchange on Wednesday, New Zealanders took to social media to keep score.

With only days to go until Saturday's General Election, Newshub spoke to Twitter's head of public policy and government for Australia and NZ, Kara Hinesley, about the results and what they could mean for the big day.

Mr English was the most mentioned leader during the debate, with a massive 71 percent, while Ms Ardern lagged on just 29 percent.

Decision 17: Twitter's dramatic differences on final leaders debate

But Ms Hinesley says, overall, they're even on Twitter.

"One thing I will note is that while Bill had the most mentions last night, over the campaign, they are neck and neck," she says.

"So, even though he had 71 percent [in the debate], overall, he has 52 percent and Jacinda has 48 percent.

"I don't have any data actually about party alignments for our users, but I would say our conversation has been pretty balanced in New Zealand, and both parties are neck and neck."

Twitter doesn't track if reactions to the candidates are positive or negative, but there has been a difference in the emojis used during the election.

"For Bill, one of the most-used emojis was pizza. For Jacinda, among the most-used emojis were sunglasses and the love heart," Ms Hinesley says.

The pizza emoji is an apparent reference to Mr English's fondness for spaghetti on pizza.

The most-mentioned terms were health, tax, poverty, fuel crisis and water.

Decision 17: Twitter's dramatic differences on final leaders debate

"Kiwis care about the policies," says Ms Hinesley. "I would definitely say that housing, tax and poverty are the things they would like to see addressed by whomever comes into Government on Saturday.

"The most-mentioned topics have been about climate change, tax-cuts and mental health. Those probably have the biggest ones we've been seeing."

The largest spike in tweets came when Mr English and Ms Ardern sparred over poverty issues and tax reform in New Zealand.

"I think people looking forward to the future already know what National is going to deliver to them," said Ms Ardern. "They've had nine years to test what that looks like."

However, Mr English was stubborn, saying: "We have better solutions than you."

Ms Ardern wasn't intimidated and hit back.

"You discovered poverty last week, that's what happened," she said, to which Mr English immediately responded: "We did not."

At the peak of the debate, New Zealanders were sending 700 to 900 tweets per minute. Twitter also exploded when Ms Ardern addressed whether Labour would form a minority government with the Green Party.

Ms Hinesley believes this shows how many New Zealanders use Twitter.

"New Zealanders are highly engaged in this election," she says. "We've been tracking tweet volumes and we've been seeing massive spikes during this election, especially during election debates."

Decision 17: Twitter's dramatic differences on final leaders debate

The third largest peak was the major policy debate over health issues.

"The largest demographic on Twitter is people under 34 and this generation is becoming more mobilised," Ms Hinesley says.

"For New Zealanders, policies are really driving the issues here. New Zealanders are really twittering about issues like heath - last night the discussion was about health and mental health was at the top."

Ms Hinesley's data shows the most-mentioned parties are National, Labour and the Green Party. It also shows who's using Twitter the most effectively.

"Definitely Bill and Jacinda, but also Chlöe Swarbrick - I think being part of the younger demographic helps," she says. "We've really seen politicians use it in a strategic and effective way."

Overall, she thinks Twitter has been positive influence on political discourse.

"Twitter is basically the equivalent of people sitting in the pub," she argues. "It's just increasing the conversation about these issues.

"It allows people to join in and make their voice heard."

And she has a message for voters ahead of Saturday's election.

"I would say it's anyone's election to win," she says.

"So jump on Twitter."