May 06, 2010

UK election cyberscapes

In anticipation of the upcoming election in the UK, we have decided to explore the geographies of election-related references in the British Isles. The map below visualises which of five political parties contain the most references at any particular location in the Google Maps database.

References to UK Political Parties
First, a brief note on method. We searched for the three major political parties (Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) at each location, as well as two of the parties on the far-right of the political spectrum (UKIP and the BNP) that have made gains in recent years. We also searched for the terms "tories + election" and "lib dems + election" and assigned a dot to either the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats if either one of those terms had the most hits at any location.

The map reveals some interesting online political geographies. The Tories score better than any other party. In fact, 61% of locations possess more references to the Conservatives than any other political party, whereas 33.8% of places have more references to Labour and only 3.4% for the Lib Dems.

The UKIP has a particuarly strong showing in the South West, with multiple points that contain more references to "UKIP" than any other party. The BNP do best in South Wales, West Gloucestershire, West Yorkshire and South Tyneside.

One of the most interesting aspects of the map is the degree to which it diverges from maps of likely voting patterns of constituencies. Some of the differences can likely be explained by the relatively recent boost in the polls to the Liberal Democrats (which hasn't yet had a chance to be reflected in material indexed by Google Maps). The strong showing by the Tories could also perhaps be attributed to a greater degree of online engagement by that party.

Another way of gauging online popularity of political parties before the election is to search for the names of each party leader throughout the country. Here we again chose the leaders of the three main parties, as well as Nick Griffin (BNP) in order to explore whether this method can tell us anything about the popularity of the far-right in different parts of the country. The map below shows these results.

References to UK Political Party Leaders
Here we see that Labour's Gordon Brown outperforms his rivals in almost every part of the country, a fact that likely owes much to his current position as Prime Minister. The only significant anomaly seems to be a large number of references to David Cameron in Oxfordshire. Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems again show poorly in this map, although it will be interesting to see how the online visibility of these figures changes after the election.

References to Nick Griffin unsurprisingly appear in many of the same places in which there was also a great deal of visibility for the BNP. We explore the visibility of far-right parties in some more detail through the following maps, which display total number of references to the BNP and the UKIP (this time not compared to any of the other political parties).

References to the British National Party

References to the UK Independence Party
These maps seem to indicate that there is not always a greater total number of references to the BNP or UKIP in places in which they scored highly in the first two maps. In some places, such as West Gloucestershire, it could simply be that there are fewer online references to any of the mainstream political parties.

Are these maps predictors of election results and likely voting patters? We doubt it, but it is nonetheless interesting to observe the very unique geographies occupied on the Internet by different segments of the political spectrum. We will, however, claim any credit for correctly predicting an election result of 61% Tories, 33% Labour and 3% Lib Dems.


  1. I can only hope that that doesn't happen! It's still too close to call here in the UK as the polls start to open. It looks like we may be heading for a hung parliament with the Tories the single largest party unfortunately.

    3% for the Lib Dems will be wildly off, some polls have them second to the Tories in part due to Nick Clegg's excellent showing in the initial Prime Minister's debate and disaffected lifelong Labour supporters who can't bear to vote Conservative but equally, feel that a change is required.

    This was interesting and certainly some of the geographical plotting will be accurate with BNP and UKIP support in particular. If you do it again though (and if we get a Tory government I hope that you get the chance soon), it will be important to include the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP and Sinn Fein. Whilst they will of course be mapped by relative geography (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), defection from Labour to the nationalists could be significant in Scotland and Wales and there is already talk of a Tory / DUP 'pact'.

    The BNP in particular has unfortunately been successful in garnering support in areas where concern about immigration is high which again is most likely to hit the Labour Party.

    Even up to yesterday some polls suggested that 40% of the electorate were undecided. Also turnout in British General Elections has of late been notoriously low.

    I suspect your order may still be right though.

  2. It would be interesting if you could map some kind of referencing information on to these maps (i.e. if the specific reference was +/- the mentioned political party) to see what impact that might have. It would also go some towards explaining the divergence from maps of likely voting patterns of constituencies you highlight.


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