Pensions and N-VA dominate social media ahead of elections


Researchers at Antwerp University have developed a political barometer to analyse which issues and political parties are hot on social media, two weeks ahead of the elections

Election fever

Pensions and the N-VA are dominating online discussions in the run-up to the May elections, researchers at Antwerp University have found.

Professor Walter Daelemans and researcher Tim Kreutz of the university’s Computational Linguistics & Psycholinguistics research group have created the Political Barometer, a website that analyses the content of material posted online. The software behind the website processes 1,000 news articles and more than 200,000 tweets each day and has been in operation since the end of March.

“Language technology makes it possible to automatically categorise what a text is about and whether the sentiment around it is largely positive or negative,” explains Daelemans. “We wanted to see what sentiments were being expressed about politics and parties and on particular topics.”

Big on Twitter

To work out the subject of a text, the software screens it for key words that are used to talk about specific themes, such as housing and climate. To define the positive or negative loading of a statement, it considers the context and refers to a word list. Researchers can then automatically track how often and in what manner politicians, parties and subjects are being talked about.

The software found that N-VA dominates the debate, in particular on Twitter. Every day, the party or one of its politicians is mentioned in an average of 2,000 tweets, with the figure for the other parties on average three times lower.

In news reports, N-VA is also by far the most talked-about party, but the gap is smaller. On Twitter, Groen is mentioned more often than the governing parties CD&V and Open VLD.

Pensions was the most frequently discussed topic in the past month, followed by company cars

N-VA’s domination is at least in part down to asylum minister Theo Francken, said Daelemans, who in one month was mentioned 14,000 times on Twitter. Alongside party comrades Bart De Wever and Jan Jambon, the other politicians in the top five were Groen’s Kristof Calvo and Meyrem Almaci.

Pensions was the most frequently discussed topic in the past month, followed by company cars. The Marrakesh pact on migration, which led to the collapse of the federal government in December, has been hardly mentioned since April, though the topic of migration in general is still prominent.

Belgian citizens are due to vote in European, regional and federal elections on 26 May. The researchers admit that the system doesn’t aim to predict the results of the vote. “This method has its limits,” says Daelemans. “The process is carried out entirely automatically and is not perfect.”

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