In just under two weeks, UK voters will take part in a ‘once in a generation’ vote to decide whether the country remains in or leaves the European Union. A Financial Times poll released on 20th February 2016, the day that the referendum date was announced, showed the Remain side leading by 15%, with 48% support compared to just 33% for Leave. A poll of polls this week showed that this gap has narrowed considerably following the campaigning of either side, with just a 1% lead for the Remain group ahead of the June 23rd vote.
The Remain group, which includes current Prime Minister David Cameron and former PMs Sir John Major and Tony Blair, have argued that the benefits and value of the EU, and the connections that it affords greatly outweighs the costs. Supporters of the Leave side, including former Mayor of London Boris Johnson and UKIP leader Nigel Farage, believe that the money saved each year by leaving the EU could be used to strengthen the UK and improve it from within. As the referendum day draws near, both sides are ramping up their campaigning in the hopes of swaying the 11% who are still undecided.
Events from the last week indicate that campaigners are right to continue trying to change public opinions. Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce that she would no longer support the Remain campaign, stating that she would feel a ‘sense of loss rather than freedom’ if the UK voted to leave the EU.
This week saw the first official debates between representatives from the Remain and Leave camps.
Cameron v Farage
The first took place on Tuesday between David Cameron and Nigel Farage. Judging by mentions on Twitter, Cameron appears to have come out of the debate on top, with an Adorescore of 37, linked to high levels of admiration and trust. However, a moderate amount of loathing is also being expressed toward him on Twitter from Remain supporters. John Prescott tweeted that Farage’s performance was ‘a bit of a car crash’, which is certainly reflected in his low Adorescore of 12, with dominant emotions of grief and loathing emerging from mentions of him on Twitter. The debate itself was discussed fairly negatively and passively, with low levels of passion and emotion being expressed in mentions, earning it an Adorescore of just 16.
Remain v Leave
A second debate between key supporters from both sides, including Boris Johnson for Leave, and the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for Remain, took place on Thursday. This debate was viewed much more positively on Twitter than the Cameron Farage debate, with mentions of it gaining a high Adorescore of 55. The discussion surrounding the debate contained high levels of passionate language and high activation emotions, including admiration, ecstasy and loathing. According to Twitter, this debate went to Remain as mentions of the Remain representatives were much more positive in tone than mentions of the Leave representatives, with an Adorescore of 41, compared to 22.
In order to get a clearer picture of what voters are feeling, we compared two of the key hashtags being used by campaigners on Twitter – #VoteLeave and #VoteRemain.
The Leave Camp
Tweets containing #VoteLeave are using a largely negative tone, reflected in the low Adorescore of 10. High levels of negative emotions, including loathing and grief are being expressed, as Leave supporters discuss their issues with the EU, including perceived corruption, and anger surrounding the EU’s impact on the British fishing industry. High levels of ecstasy are also being conveyed on Twitter, as people express their hope for the future of the UK if the public votes out of the EU.
The Remain Camp
The Remain side are leading a much more positive campaign, with mentions of #VoteRemain resulting in an Adorescore of 39. The highest levels of emotions expressed also tend to be positive, including ecstasy and admiration. This group are also conveying more trust and passion than the Leave supporters in run-up to the referendum, focusing on the unity that the EU provides across many sectors, and the positive contribution that EU immigrants have had on the UK economy. Moderate levels of loathing are also expressed by this group, as they discuss the misinformation that they feel the Leave camp are spreading.
The polls are showing that the two sides are neck-and-neck at this point in the race. In two weeks, we will know if the UK is to leave the EU, or remain a member. We will then be able to see if a more negative social media campaign is more effective than a campaign focusing on hope and positivity in winning a referendum.