On Saturday 24 September, ahead of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, the result of the leadership contest between Owen Smith and incumbent Jeremy Corbyn will be announced. Atlas Partners Consultant Ed Gavaghan has been tracking the ‘clicktivism’ to see what the likely result will be.
For the second Summer running, the Labour Party has been embroiled in a leadership contest for the “soul of the party”. The vote of no confidence by 172 MPs, including the majority of the Shadow Cabinet, in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has led to battles over his right to run, voting rules for members and affiliates, and acts of violence in local constituency branches.
For activists, this leadership battle is not just a contest between Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn as individuals, but about ideals and what the Labour Party stands for.
Coalescing around #SavingLabour was a campaign to remain a serious prospect for government and a pragmatic centre left force.
On the opposing side, the #KeepCorbyn campaign was kick-started by Momentum, which helped elect him as leader in 2015. For these activists, the future of Labour is in ideological purity and a rejection of the Blairite compromises to centrist pragmatism.
#KEEPCORBYN VS #SAVINGLABOUR
Atlas tracked these campaigns on social media to see whether their engagement can help predict the outcome of the contest.
Momentum now boasts over 100,000 online supporters - with 44,400 of those on twitter - while Corbyn has over 629,000 twitter followers. This social media reach, measured crudely by followers alone, is almost ten times that of Smith’s (16,500 twitter followers).
Between July and September, we recorded more than 78,000 tweets using either #KeepCorbyn or #SavingLabour. Of these 79.4% referenced #KeepCorbyn more than two and a half times the level of support for #SaveLabour on 20.5%.
On Facebook, Corbyn also has a huge advantage over Smith in terms of reach and engagement. Corbyn’s most watched campaign video - of a speech at a rally in Liverpool - has been viewed more than 1.2m times. This is 28 times more than Smith’s most watched video (43,000 views).
Their use of social media data – targeted messaging, hit rates, shares – helps Corbyn legitimise his role and refute those who argue against his leadership and style of campaigning. These figures illustrate the huge support Corbyn has from the hardcore left, but also showcases how much more active his supporters are in online campaigning, or clicktivism.
Our analysis shows the vast gap which has developed between the two candidates online; more than 8,000 tweets a week separate the their respective campaigns. This is despite the pro-active support of the #SavingLabour campaign by other prominent Labour MPs including Chukka Umunna (168k followers), Ed Miliband (530k), and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (297k).
Crucially, Smith has failed to capture the online support which exists for a stable and progressive centre left Labour party despite the media and celebrity enthusiasm. Even endorsements from J. K. Rowling (8.2m), Jason Isaac’s (88.4K) and Robert Webb (420K) didn't ignite the campaign.
What does the social gap mean for next Saturday’s result?
If we were to assume the same margin in the leadership result, there will be a resounding win for Corbyn with 79.4% of the vote (based on share of voice on twitter).
Although a majority by this landslide may not be achievable - even for Corbyn - the money is on him to win by a larger margin than in 2015 (when he secured 59.5% of the vote). The latest YouGov poll (August 30) has Corbyn winning by 62%.
Social media engagement is just one parameter by which we can assess the strength of campaigns, but it is proving increasingly crucial to success. In our previous blog on the EU Referendum, we looked at Vote Leave’s social media triumph over Remain, proving that effective online movements are vital for modern campaigns.
Beyond the online battle, the Smith campaign still looks the weaker of the two. Over the last year, Labour membership has grown significantly, with the majority citing support for Corbyn as their reason for joining. Corbyn has also illustrated the strength and effectiveness of his ground-game, with regular rallies of several thousand people in location across the country. So #KeepCorbyn heads into its final week looking likely to secure his status as opposition leader. A much larger questions then remains: what happens to Labour next?