Hashtags in Parliamentary elections

An analysis of nearly two hundred thousand election tweets reveals that hashtags have become a key campaign method in the realm of politics also. Their use, however, is clearly group-specific and regional.

Analysing the Finnish Parliamentary elections held on Sunday, 19 April, researchers from the University of Helsinki and Aalto University found that Finnish politicians and political activists had adopted hashtags wholeheartedly in the latest elections.

“Hashtags were an essential campaign element not only for political parties, but also for many other participants ranging from NGOs to the media,” says researcher Salla-Maaria Laaksonen of the University of Helsinki. “An inherent aim of the format is to secure citizens’ pledges to vote and to recruit candidates who stand by the campaign’s values.”

Examples of such campaigns include the one organised by the National Union of University Students in Finland (#koulutuslupaus), the joint campaign of several child and youth organisations (#huoneentaulu) and the campaign collaboratively arranged by environmental organisations and companies (#energiaremontti2015).

Policymakers active on Twitter

Nearly every party in the recent elections had its own campaign hashtag – as did numerous candidates.

Around 16,000 of the tweets with election-related hashtags were written by candidates, while the bulk, or 91% of all the messages, came from other participants: voters, interest groups and media representatives.

A total of 938, or nearly 44%, of the MP candidates are present on Twitter. Although the candidates’ Twitter presence doubled from the previous Parliamentary elections, talking about Twitter elections would still be a stretch.

The Greens and the National Coalition Party the most vocal ones

Twitter use varies greatly by region. The bulk of tweets from October to the Thursday before election day were sent by candidates of the Greens and the National Coalition Party in the Helsinki and Uusimaa electoral districts.

A network analysis of tweets and Instagram messages featuring the #vaalit2015 election hashtag reveals that election-related communication took place largely within party groups. Hashtags and messagers appearing together in messages are displayed close to each other in the network graph.

The National Coalition, the former Prime Minister’s party, and the Centre Party, the favourite heading into the elections, stood out as their own cluster in terms of both topics and participants communicating with one another. The Greens also formed their own clique: while active on Twitter, they converse mainly among themselves.

The third clearly distinguishable cluster was unrelated to parties: child and youth organisations and their campaign hashtags sparked active discussions.

The general hashtags (#vaalit2015 and #politiikka) were for the most part accompanied by hashtags referring to political parties. Other common topics included the economy (#talous), work (#työ), security policy (#turpo), voting advice applications (#vaalikoneet) and the social welfare and health care reform (#sote).

Analysis of electoral material to continue

The University of Helsinki’s and Aalto University’s joint project on the 2015 cyberelections (Digivaalit 2015) examines the online attention garnered by topics related to Parliamentary elections. The project participants and the National Library collected election-related content from various social media services from the beginning of the year until election day. The participants will now use the material for more detailed analyses.

In their preliminary analysis, the researchers combed through more than 175,000 tweets sent between 13 November 2014 and 16 April 2015 featuring the hashtags #vaalit2015, #valet2015, #vaalit or #politiikka, or the words vaalit, poliitikko, politiikka or poliitikot (elections, politician, politics or politicians). The candidates’ information and user names were obtained from the public data used in the voting advice applications of the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper and the Finnish Broadcasting Company.

The participants in the 2015 cyberelection project include the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology, a joint research institute of Aalto University and the University of Helsinki, as well as the University of Helsinki’s Communication Research Centre, CRC. The project is funded by the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation.

Further information about the project