Election insights: What are young Canadians discussing on Facebook?
The most common word-pairings used in association with each federal leader are shown in this infographic from Facebook Canada.
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, October 8, 2015 1:11PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 8, 2015 5:05PM EDT
Canadians 24 and younger are discussing the same election issues as the general population on Facebook, though they've got a different focus when it comes to the federal leaders, according to Facebook's latest data on the Canadian election conversation.
Chatter among younger Facebookers is strongest when it comes to the economy, Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, but slightly less intense than it is among the Facebook-using general population.
For instance, 63 per cent of general Canadian Facebook users talking about the election are talking about the economy, compared to 59 per cent of the conversations involving those 24 and under.
Facebook is able to measure user engagement on different topics by tracking specific keywords used by an estimated 4 million people talking about the election. For example, words such as “Syria,” “Russia,” “trade,” and “immigrants” are tracked to gauge engagement on foreign policy when they appear alongside the name of a political party, party leader or the word “election.”
Facebook doesn't measure the tone of the conversation, so while a topic or person may be oft-discussed, that doesn't mean the topic or leader is universally loved or hated.
Among 18- to 24-year-old voters, these were the most-discussed issues in conversations involving the election:
For comparison, these were the most-discussed issues for the general population:
- Economic issues – 63 per cent
- Social issues – 37 per cent
- Foreign policy – 39 per cent
- Environment/Energy – 31 per cent
- Governance – 34 per cent
- Government benefits – 26 per cent
- Terrorism/Intelligence/Surveillance – 25 per cent
The Facebook data shows the discussion among young voters is slightly weaker on most issues, by a few percentage points, with the exception of social issues. That category was the second most-talked about topic of discussion among young voters, and third among the general population. At the other end of the scale, young voters talked significantly less often about governance, when compared to the general population.
Among the federal leaders, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper comes up in three-quarters of all election-related conversations, followed by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, then NDP Leader Tom Mulcair. The level of discussion among young voters breaks down as follows.
These were the most-discussed leaders among the general population:
- Conservative Leader Stephen Harper – 79 per cent
- Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau – 43 per cent
- NDP Leader Tom Mulcair – 30 per cent
- Green Party Leader Elizabeth May – 12 per cent
- Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe – 5 per cent
Facebook can also track the volume of conversation surrounding each leader by looking at word pairings, which are two-word ideas often used in conjunction with a leader's name.
Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada's Head of Public Policy, says word pairs are a good indicator of what specific issues Canadians are currently talking about. They also show the distinction between what young voters care about and what the general population is concerned with, he says.
"When we look at youth, presumably we're looking at people who are finishing school, who are starting their careers or building a family, so their interests are maybe different in that regard than the rest of the population," he told CTVNews.ca.
The youth vote was generally in step with the general population, in terms of discussing larger issues and the various party leaders. However, the tone of those conversations appears to be markedly different, based on Facebook's word pairs.
These are the most common word pairs Facebook identified among young voters:
It's worth noting that tax cuts and the Islamic State – two key issues in the Conservative platform – are also the most-discussed issues on Facebook, when users are talking about Stephen Harper. However, when it comes to the Liberals' Justin Trudeau, the two most-discussed word pairs are his hair and his party slogan, "real change."
For comparison, these were the top word pairs for the general population:
- Stephen Harper – Fair Elections, Canadian disabilities
- Justin Trudeau – Canadian veterans, Surveillance police
- Tom Mulcair – Canadian disabilities, Clarity Act
- Elizabeth May – Canadian veterans, Violation charter
- Gilles Duceppe – Services publics, Etat Islamique (Public services and Islamic State)
Chan suggests the difference in word pairs between young voters and the rest of the population may be due to parties targeting certain groups with tailored messages. "One possible reason might be they are talking to Canadians about different things," he said.
However, these differences in word pairs does not seem to carry over to the larger issues, which remain similar between young voters and the general population.
"They are all top-of-mind for voters, regardless of age," Chan said.
The keywords in the conversation also appear to have changed dramatically since Facebook released its last set of word pairs, using data from June to Aug. 6. Those word pairs were dominated by phrases like "Bill C-51" and "middle class," with none of the current popular word pairs present.
The conversation data is culled from the period between Aug. 2 and Oct. 4, based on an estimated 28 million interactions by 4 million users on Facebook.