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Photo: Saeed Khan/AFP

Why social media is the new political barometer

After the dust settled from the Coalition’s upset win on the weekend, conversation quickly turned to how inaccurate the country’s major opinion polls had been.

Throughout the election campaign Labor consistently led the Coalition 51:49; at the time Morrison took over, the Coalition trailed Labor 46:54. Despite the Labor lead narrowing over the campaign, it was still expected to translate into a comfortable win for Bill Shorten.

However, the Liberal National Party trounced Labor in the Sunshine State where Shorten’s equivocation over the Adani mine stoked concerns over job losses. Western Australia and Tasmania also came firmly back into the Coalition fold.

The ABC’s election analyst, Antony Green, said the shambolic polling this year could be blamed on sub-standard sampling.

“They [media companies] switched from an operator asking questions to randomly calling mobile numbers and robocalls,” he said.

“There has been a drop off in response rates and there has also been a drop off in the quality of the data.”

Former Newspoll boss Martin O’Shannessy also highlighted poor sampling methods, arguing that the traditional polling methods don’t reflect the modern age.

“Not everyone has a landline and the numbers that are published are incomplete,” he said.

One person who predicted the Coalition’s win – as well as Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory – was Griffith University Professor Bela Stantic, an expert in data mining.

To achieve this, Professor Stantic analysed two million social media comments related to key campaign terms.

“I am able to assess the opinions of people through their social media … other polling has a much smaller sample,” Professor Stantic said.

“I must [just] be careful of the fake news.”

While the data mining expert said traditional polling was becoming obsolete, legacy pollsters are calling for reforms to make their predictions more accurate.

Mr O’Shannessy, as well as marketing and polling companies, are calling for access to the Government’s Independent Public Number Database (IPND), which contains all unlisted and listed numbers in the country. This is the database used by law enforcement and emergency services.

If and when that will happen is unclear, but until such changes occur social media seems to be the best window into people’s minds.

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One comment

  1. From the day that Turnbull jumped (the push was imminent) it became clear that conservative voters started to drift back towards the Coalition. It accelerated as the election got closer. Anyone who followed conservative outlets, not just social media but newspapers as well (e.g. in The Australian comments sections), could sense this groundswell. Attacks on the Coalition from within gradually stopped. By contrast, during Turnbull’s rein the anger expressed towards the Coalition by commenters was incessant – self-evidently from disgruntled conservative contributors, while defence of Turnbull came from the Liberal wets or from self-evidently labor and leftwards contributors. The polls clearly failed to sense this mood change even if it was there for all (who looked) to see.

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