Wait a second? Did Twitter predict the outcome of the federal election? This analysis uncovers indicators that suggest it may have.

This is the second in a series of five posts in which I am sharing analysis of how the the recent federal election (#elxn42) played out online. While I expect I will write a fair bit about the election over the coming weeks and months, this series specifically shares data analysis covering the entire election period. This second post looks at how issues played out on Twitter.

Analysis was conducted using Sysomos MAP and Full Duplex Compass. This analysis only considers mentions based on keywords; it does not consider sentiment.

Be sure to follow the digital activities of our newly-elected MPs on Our Digital Parliament.


  • Top-10 campaign issues
  • Real battle was between Harper and Trudeau
  • Experience didn’t matter
  • Economy was a fluid issue (so was #peegate)
  • Change was constant, unaffected by other issues
  • Justin Trudeau always owned change

Top-10 campaign issues

The ten most-discussed issues on Twitter during the election campaign were as follows:

  1. Economy
  2. Change
  3. Immigration / Refugees
  4. Oil and pipelines
  5. Duffy Trial / Senate
  6. Infrastructure
  7. Taxes
  8. Jobs
  9. #peegatge
  10.  Trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

That list only tells part of the story. The same goes for the following graph of the five most-discussed election issues. Among other things, it shows that most issues have a life-cycle (sometimes multiple life-cycles) driven by events such as trials, debates, humanitarian crises and international trade negotiations.


Real battle was between Harper and Trudeau

The following table compares the five most-mentioned issues in tweets about the three main leaders. It shows Mr. Mulcair has only one issue in common with Mr. Harper (economy) and two with Mr. Trudeau (change, economy). Meanwhile, there are three issues in common between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Harper (economy, taxes, veterans and military personnel). This may suggest that, in trying to distinguish himself from Mr. Harper, Mr. Mulcair vacated the ring, allowing Mr. Trudeau to be the more-likely opponent for Mr. Harper for those beyond the NDP base.

Harper Mulcair Trudeau
Duffy Trial / Senate
Immigration / Refugees
Veterans and military personnel
Oil and pipelines
Bill C-51
Veterans and military personnel

In fact, Mr. Mulcair seems to have struggled to be a dominant challenger in discussions about the economy throughout the campaign.


Experience didn’t matter

“Experience” was the third most-mentioned issue in relation to Mr. Trudeau during the first week of the election, consistent with the way the Conservative campaign was positioning Mr. Trudeau. Experience did not appear again in Mr. Trudeau’s top five until the week of October 4-10 (position four), just as momentum was clearly starting to shift in the Liberal party’s favour.

As noted in most post-election analysis, the Conservatives set the expectation for Mr. Trudeau rather low in a very effective “soft” attack ad. While many questioned Mr. Trudeau’s readiness at the beginning of the campaign, each of his debate performances seemed to incrementally improve his image and credibility. Look for more about this in my leaders analysis instalment for this series (coming soon).


Economy was a fluid issue (so was #peegate)

As much as economy was a dominant issue on Twitter, it struggled against some pretty fierce competition. Every time is seemed to be capturing public attention, it was challenged by other emerging issues. The Duffy trial was the first to suck oxygen away from economy chatter. As the trial wrapped up, economy started to re-emerge until it was knocked down by the emergence of the refugee crisis. Then #peegate derailed both. After that, the economy only gained energy during the debates.


In fact, looking at the top-five issues for Mr. Harper throughout the campaign, it becomes obvious that he struggled to have his desired issues dominate the top-five in online discussion until the week of September 13. Ironically, the election was to have been called on September 14.

Change was constant, unaffected by other issues

It’s clear that change had a baseload of energy which gained momentum as the campaign approached election day. Mentions of economy were much more likely to be energized by the debates and overcome by competing issues (also see the graph, above). The turning point was the Munk debate (September 28). The desire for change picked up and never turned back. According to Twitter, change was the more stable of the two ballot questions.


Justin Trudeau always owned change

With the exception of the day the election was called, Justin Trudeau owned online of change. We can see that this picked up energy beginning September 28, following the Munk debate.