As the Conservative Party Conference concluded, the data team at Trafalgar Strategy looked back at the Prime Minister and Chancellor’s keynote speeches, by tracking the Twitter sentiment expressed during both speeches to understand what Twitter users either liked or disliked. The results are visualised below.
Each graph represents a minute-by-minute average sentiment score for each speech. Where greater than zero equals positive and less than zero equals negative. As a result, at any given minute, you can see the average sentiment expressed through/in tweets at any given moment of the respective speeches.
As Rishi Sunak stepped up, the reaction on Twitter was relatively moderate. As a result, the average sentiment jumps around, with some users disparaging the Chancellor over fuel shortages and tax hikes and others discussing the additional £500m for COVID job support programmes. The same is not true for the Prime Minister, however, as Twitter sentiment was initially negative – driven by criticism of the Government’s COVID handling and the ongoing fuel crisis.
By the time each speech kicked off, the volume of tweets slowly increased, with the average sentiment for Rishi Sunak settling around neutral – where it remained for the majority of the speech. In contrast, Boris Johnson’s sentiment remained negative, bar one instance of positive sentiment linked to a series of positive tweets talking up the Government’s COVID record around vaccination rates.
When looking at the reaction to Rishi Sunak’s speech, the one significant reaction – on Twitter at least – appears to be in relation to his fiscal responsibility comments at the outset. Initially, Twitter users reacted negatively to this, disparaging the Chancellor’s own wealth and mocking what they perceived to be as a play for the Conservative party leadership. Although the data then showed an immediate jump in sentiment, this was solely driven by reporting related to the applause the Chancellor received at conference and was not a positive endorsement of his message.
Quickly, Twitter returned to disparaging the Chancellor, as negative sentiment remained strong for several minutes. Throughout this period, the ire of Twitter users jumped around a little, with some users calling out the Chancellor’s hypocrisy, given the state of the national debt. Others were angry at tax hikes or simply parroting Labour’s broken promises line.
When we looked at the engagement around tweets during this period, to see where the broader Twitter consensus sat with regards to the Chancellor, unsurprisingly it was overwhelmingly against him. Specifically, we looked at the four tweets during this period that received significant engagement. Of the four, one supported the chancellor, one simply reported on his comments, one mocked him and the other was a visceral attack on conservative values that managed to mention COVID deaths and child poverty. It was the visceral attack that generated the most positive engagement suggesting.
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, what was already a broadly negative reaction took a serious nosedive around 11:43. Overwhelmingly, this negative reaction was driven by people reacting to his comments around fiscal responsibility and tackling the social care crisis.
In relation to social care, the biggest driver of negativity during this period, Twitter users quickly accused the Prime Minister of lying – a theme that emerged in the reaction to his speech – with users specifically highlighting the impact of Brexit and attacking the Prime Minister’s record on building hospitals. Users criticising his comments around fiscal responsibility predominantly accused the Prime Minister of hypocrisy, focusing on the Conservative party’s decade in government and mounting debt.
Although there is a big jump in positive sentiment around 11:46, this is driven by his ‘Jon Bon Govi’ joke and was not an endorsement of his swipe against Corbyn or previous Conservative administrations. Unhelpfully for Boris, the immediate drop in sentiment can also partly be attributed to this joke, which angered as many as it pleased. Other negative sentiment can be linked to his comments around levelling up as users were not convinced in the Prime minister’s promises or ability to deliver meaningful change.
Sentiment then remains constantly low as users continued to reflect on his speech. Hashtags such as ‘#ToryScum’, ‘#BorisLies’, ‘#JohnsonMustGo’ or ‘#ToryLies’ begin to spread with almost everything the Prime Minster saying being met by angry and vocal twitter activists who at one point, accuse him of engaging in the culture war following his comments around social justice.
The small peaks in positive sentiment in the second half of the Prime Ministers speech are attributed to his delivery and not specific policy announcements. A small but vocal minority of Twitter users appreciating and enjoying the performance, commenting on the Prime Ministers whit, enthusiasm and passion. Furthermore, although not many, we do find a minority of users who question whether Sir Kier Starmer stands a chance against Boris at a general election.
Finally, when we looked at engagement, not a single positive tweet supporting the Prime Minister had any significant engagement. Overwhelmingly tweets that got retweets, likes or comments did so because they criticised not supported him, demonstrating the extent to which Twitter is currently a majority left-leaning platform.
When looking at the reaction to both speeches, it is clear that the palpable discontent with Boris Johnson supersedes the negative sentiment held towards Rishi Sunak – reinforcing the Chancellor’s rise in stature amongst the wider public.