Can Facebook be an indicator of election results in North Tipperary?

Candidate.ie is an experimental research project which aims to track social media activity in the forthcoming Irish General Election campaign. It’s a pretty straightforward idea – collect links to every candidate’s profile on social networking sites and present them along with their rivals in each constituency. In that way, visitors to the site can easily find links to their local candidate’s profiles.  In November 2010, the founder of candidate.ie came across a couple of articles on the internet which suggested that the results of the US mid-term elections, ‘be they congressional, gubernatorial or otherwise’, could have been almost accurately predicted using the Facebook fan count for the candidates in each race.  At that time on this side of the pond we had the Donegal South-West by-election here, so candidate.ie kept an eye on the candidates there.  Candidate.ie found that the Facebook friend count of each of the candidates in the by-election acted as a very good predictor of the number of first preference votes that they received.  Now candidate.ie wants to apply this prediction method nationwide in the forthcoming general election.

The founder of candidate.ie is Ciarán Mc Mahon, a lecturer in psychology at Dublin Business School.  You may also be familiar with Ciarán from his other social media project, PsychBook.  You can follow updates about this project over on Twitter @Twallywan. There’s also a Facebook Page: Candidate.ie

Here’s a list of some politicians in the North Tipperary constituency and the amount of Facebook friends that they have:

Candidate                                          Facebook Friend Count

Michael Lowry (Ind)                         5,000

Alan Kelly (Lab)                                3,473

Máire Hoctor (FF)                              1,462

Seamie Morris (SF)                            1,518

Noel Coonan (FG)                             No Data Available

Now here are the results of the General Election from 2007 in the North Tipperary constituency:

General Election 2007 – Tipperary North Results

  • Status: Complete
  • Turnout: 78.5%
  • Total Valid Poll: 44,431
  • Seats: 3
  • Quota: 11,108
  • Electorate: 57,084

* = sitting TD

Candidate Party Votes No. Votes % Elected/Excluded
COONAN, Noel J Fine Gael 7061 15.9 Elected
HOCTOR, Máire* Fianna Fail 7374 16.6 Elected
LOWRY, Michael* Independent 12919 29.1 Elected
McNALLY, Paul Green Party 495 1.1 Excluded
MORRIS, Séamus Sinn Fein 1672 3.8 Excluded
O’MEARA, Kathleen Labour 4561 10.3 Excluded
RYAN, Jim Independent 1844 4.2 Excluded
SHEARY, Tony PD 634 1.4 Excluded
SMITH, Michael* Fianna Fail 7871 17.7 Excluded

Looking at the results table above from the 2007 general election, and taking Máire Hoctor as an example, we can see that Máire’s percentage of votes was 16.6% of the total valid poll.  Now let’s see what percentage of the total valid poll those politicians would have got based purely on their Facebook friend count.  Here are the results below:

Candidate                                          % of Total Valid Poll based on Facebook Friends

Michael Lowry  (Ind)                                     11%

Alan Kelly  (Lab)                                            7.8%

Máire Hoctor  (FF)                                          3.2%

Seamie Morris  (SF)                                        3.4%

Noel Coonan  (FG)                                         No Data Available

If we look at the Red C poll carried out for Paddy Power on the 7th January, it estimates party support as follows:

Fine Gael 35%

Labour 21%

Sinn Fein 14%

Fianna Fail 14%

Green Party 4%

Others 12%

Now consider that approximately 25% of the population of the North Tipperary constituency are on Facebook, so if we multiply all the results in the previous table above by four we can see what percentage of the total valid poll the politicians would have got had only the Facebook friends voted, and other members of the electorate not on Facebook were excluded.  Taking this into consideration, if we look at what percentage of the Total Valid Poll these politicians get based purely on Facebook friends alone, the results turn out to be very different.

Candidate                              % of Total Valid Poll based on Facebook Friends Alone

Michael Lowry  (Ind)                                     44%

Alan Kelly  (Lab)                                            31.2%

Máire Hoctor  (FF)                                          12.8%

Seamie Morris  (SF)                                        13.6%

Noel Coonan  (FG)                                         No Data Available

While this is a very basic calculation and the figures may not add up correctly given the 5000 limit on friend count and lack of figures for Noel Coonan, it may help provide an indication of a candidate’s popularity.

Keep a note of those politician’s Facebook friends count, and who knows maybe they will have an effect on the political situation in March.

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