Last week we published stats on Brexit and the mood of the UK public, measured by their engagement on Twitter. The findings were based on a sample of 4 million people (approximately one-tenth of the total UK electorate, or one-quarter of active Twitter users in the UK).
The study period covered January 2016 to May 2018, so we captured data for the pre-referendum period and for all subsequent points in the UK’s Brexit journey.
The research was conducted in two stages; a random sample of four million individual accounts on any topic, and a more focused sample of people who discuss Brexit.
The initial wave of random sampling was designed to find a norm for general levels of contentment within the UK Twitter population. No topics were predefined for the sampling; people only needed to be an active user of Twitter. It didn’t matter what they were doing, we only analysed how they were feeling.
The second wave of sampling focused on 150k people who had commented on Brexit at any point since January 2016. We examined the emotional expression of Brexit Authors in two stages. We measured their reactions to any topic and then we isolated their reactions to Brexit specifically.
Our conclusions are that the overall mood of the UK population is stable, but people who mention Brexit are more negative in their general outlook and they become even more biased towards negative sentiment when Brexit is discussed.
Pre-Brexit Vote (January 2016 to May 31st 2016)
UK Mood: 55% Positive, 45% Negative
Brexit Author Group: 43% Positive, 57% Negative
So the people who we know have recently mentioned Brexit, were 12% more negative (or less positive) in the past than the UK pubic before the Brexit vote (on any topic).
Post-Brexit Vote (January 2018 to May 15th 2018)
UK Mood: 55% Positive, 45% Negative
Brexit Author Group: 42% Positive, 58% Negative
Brexit Author Group who mention Brexit: 35% Positive, 64% Negative
So, the people who we know have mentioned Brexit, were 13% more negative (or less positive) than the UK public after the Brexit vote (on any topic).
However, when the Brexit Author Group mention Brexit, they were 6% more negative (or less positive) than normal OR 19% more negative (or less positive) compared to the UK public.
What can we take from this? Well, it appears that the majority of UK Twitter users are not engaging in Brexit discussion. Other research houses using more directional survey techniques have picked up on a relatively high level of public boredom with Brexit and the fact that most people in social media are getting on with their lives seems to support that view.
When politicians consider the evidence of social media, they should take care when assessing the impact of a vocal minority who exhibit a bias towards criticism.
Brexit authors have an abnormal sensitivity to the debate. Currently they are 6% more negative on Brexit than on other topics. If the government could close that gap it would represent progress, even if it means some people are still unhappy. It would be possible to measure changes in the composition and mood of Brexit authors to detect any moderation in their position over time, or in response to a government action.
In the long term, the data suggests that the government will not be able to convince everyone and there will be a core group who will be dissatisfied with whatever form Brexit takes. I guess this has always been the price of compromise. Brexit is by nature divisive, so taking some of the heat out of the debate could be the government’s best option. Speak softly, focus on an orderly outcome and give the majority of us as few reasons as possible to oppose it.