2020 Queensland State Election: Week 2 Update

By Axel Bruns and Daniel Angus.

We began our coverage of the 2020 Queensland state election campaign last week with an overview of the parties’ and candidates’ Twitter efforts, and while we will focus mainly on the Facebook campaign in this week’s overview, here is a quick update on the latest Twitter activity (covering the period from 9 to 15 October). Overall, we have seen little change from last week: Labor and the Greens continue to post considerably more on Twitter than the Liberal-National Party, and also receive the majority of tweets from the general public.

Indeed, the volume of tweets directed at candidates has increased substantially over this second week of the campaign: Labor candidates alone received nearly 30,000 tweets, compared to 25,000 during the preceding seven days. The public’s retweeting behaviour has also changed: this week, only Labor’s tweets generated substantial amplification via retweeting (13% of all tweets engaging with Labor candidates this week retweeted their posts, compared to only 4% for the LNP and 1% for the Greens). This is a notable shift: during the preceding seven days, 9% of tweets engaging with LNP and 16% of tweets engaging with Greens candidates were retweets.

Some of this may be explained by events during the week: claims on Monday 10 October that Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had been referred to the Electoral Commission for participating in dinners with property developers generated a substantial amount of additional tweets directed at her and other party colleagues (but not retweeting their accounts), while on 11 October significant acrimony between Greens and Labor candidates and supporters resulted in a substantial amount of additional tweets targeting Greens candidates, in particular. These shifts are clearly visible in our graph of tweets per hour. Once again, too, we did not encounter any evidence of coordinated bot campaigns targeting candidates on Twitter during this week.

But of course Twitter is only one part of the campaign. We turn our focus now to Facebook, looking at the pages of the candidates, their parties, and where possible the paid political advertising they are running on the platform. To catch up with the Twitter analysis, our update in this post will cover the full period of 3-15 October. During this time, across its candidates’ pages, the LNP is slightly more active than Labor, and both are well ahead of all other parties; One Nation and the Greens have both managed more than 1,000 posts, while the other parties (many of which are also standing fewer candidates) are far less active.

Yet such activity will matter little if there are no followers to see it – and here, Labor remains well in the lead. Its candidate pages boast a combined total of nearly 490,000 followers, while LNP candidates have attracted less than half that number, and the other parties’ candidates are each followed by a combined total of fewer than 50,000 Facebook users. This is also result of Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s greater national profile, however (her page alone is responsible for some 168,000 of Labor’s total follower count, compared to Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington’s 55,000) – and it is therefore likely that a greater proportion of Palaszczuk’s followers will be located interstate, and thus not part of the primary audience for Queensland electioneering.

In light of these follower numbers it is not surprising that Palaszczuk also leads the field across all forms of engagement on Facebook (reactions, comments, and shares) – and indeed, just as we have seen on Twitter, there is a clear focus of attention on the Premier, the Opposition Leader, and Deputy Premier Steven Miles. While six of the ten candidates with the greatest number of reactions to their posts are from the Labor Party, three LNP candidates are also represented here, and its Member for Callide, Colin Boyce, manages to generate a particularly strong number of shares with his posts. The sole current Greens MP, Michael Berkman, rounds out the top 10.

If we consider Facebook’s ‘like’ button as a fairly neutral reaction, treat ‘sad’ and ‘angry’ as negative, and the other reaction options as positive, then clear patterns also emerge in how Facebook users respond to these candidates. Palaszczuk and Frecklington both receive a fairly small percentage of negative reactions – only 2% of all such responses fall into this category. However, 17% of reactions to Palaszczuk are clearly positive, compared to only 7% for Frecklington; of the ten candidates with the greatest total number of reactions, she receives the least positive endorsement. Other Labor candidates match Palaszczuk in positive reactions, but also attract more negatives: embattled former Deputy Jackie Trad receives 10% negative reactions, while current Deputy Premier Steven Miles is at 9%.

This does not necessarily mean that these politicians are more disliked, however: such negative reactions may also reflect the substance of their Facebook posts. As Health Minister, for instance, Miles’s posts are often highly critical of federal government actions to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and followers who declare themselves to be ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ may therefore be angry for him rather than angry at him. The same is perhaps true also for Liberal MP Colin Boyce, whose posts attacking the Labor government generated engagement that was 24% negative: ‘angry’ reactions here might have simply shared Boyce’s anger. Especially in the case of Miles and Boyce, then, negative responses from the Facebook audience likely reflect the two candidates’ more aggressive style of campaigning, while Palaszczuk and Frecklington have managed to avoid such aggression to a greater degree so far. (This may well change towards the end of the campaign, of course.)

At a party level, too, Labor has managed to generate more positive reactions (17% compared to the LNP (7%), but amongst the larger parties both lag behind the Greens (24%). Here, the greatest percentage of angry and sad reactions is reserved for One Nation (8%), which is likely to reflect both the party’s more negative campaigning style and its controversial role in Queensland and Australian politics.

The main topics of the posts made to these candidate pages are on jobs, economic recovery, local community, health, and infrastructure. Unsurprisingly “Queensland” and “Queenslanders” are two of the most prominent terms in all posts made, highlighting that parochial politics have again been thrust to the fore.

Looking at the top topics mentioned across the combined Facebook activities of the candidates, Labor and the LNP are closely matched with a focus on jobs, local community, support (for them – i.e. “we need your support”), and economic recovery. The Greens’ topics are much more policy-specific, with a focus on increasing mining royalties and free meals for school kids. One Nation have been posting mostly on the topic of children, in line with Senator Hanson’s views on the family court. KAP focussed on the cost of living and power prices, while the UAP focussed on jobs and votes.

Facebook’s advertising transparency tools are far from perfect, but they do allow us a glimpse into the ads that are being run by candidates, political parties, and other interest groups on the platform. Through these tools we can see how much has been spent on ads, explore high-level demographic details on whom these ads are targeting (but not the full details as would be available to the ad purchaser), and an estimate of the potential reach these ads have generated, such as the number of times they may have been seen in someone’s Facebook feed.

The ad transparency data lag three days behind, so we were only able to obtain data to the Tuesday of this week. From the data obtained for the past seven-day period (7-13 October), we note that Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party is the biggest spender on the platform ($25,700), which is in line with similarly high advertising spending in the previous federal election campaign. The UAP ads strongly focus on Townsville, and on opening Queensland’s borders. Notably Clive Palmer himself is absent from these ads, and from physical ads that have been seen around Queensland, and instead we see his wife Anna Palmer, or simply bold black text on yellow backgrounds with simple one-line slogans.

Behind UAP, the LNP is the next highest ad spender at $19,800, with Labor in third place at $12,700. The Greens ($7,000) and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party ($6,100) are spending between half to a third of the major parties. The ads served by all parties are a mixture of image tiles, and short videos. For the period studied here there was less overall focus on attack ads, and more on policy announcements, candidate introductions, how-to-vote and enrolment information.

In terms of individual candidate pages, four of the top five spenders are ALP incumbents, with Grace Grace topping the list, followed by Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk. LNP incumbent Sam O’Connor (Bonney) is in third, followed by Labor incumbents Jackie Trad and Meaghan Scanlon. Except for Palaszczuk’s very safe seat of Inala, the candidates on this top spenders list are all contesting key battleground seats of this election.

The semiotics (the visual language) of the attack ads served by the major parties reveals stereotypical visual elements for this genre: dark tones, heavy saturation, and glum-faced pictures of political rivals.

We’ll keep tracking these and other trends and will return with another update on the Facebook and Twitter campaigns next Friday.