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The Political Futures Tracker: now the dust has settled

As Nesta's Political Futures Tracker draws to a close we look back over the last few months of debate and campaign as a post-election round-up. With the benefit of hindsight, this blog will signpost the successes and failures of electioneering and how times have changed now the election is over.

Through a look at the themes that were discussed and how they were mentioned, on Twitter and in manifestos we look at the big issues that defined the vote and determined government.

Round-up graph

In the week preceding 7 May we saw that sentiment was running high for certain key themes, such as Scotland and the UK Economy, and for a number of parties these themes continue to resonate in a post campaign political landscape. As a default, the top topics mentioned in the last week have tended to follow the lines of the parties' manifestos - with a few exceptions.

Post- election, the Green party and Labour have continued to mention the UK Economy with high frequency

This is in contrast to the likes of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats - for whom this theme has fallen out of political favour in the week after the vote.

Scotland has re-emerged as a top theme for the Conservatives with attention paid to SNP success in the election (winning 56 of 59 seats in Scotland). This has prompted much media hype around a potential second referendum and talks of power ceding. As such, Nicola Sturgeon has been quoted to say that it "...can't be business as usual..." regarding Scotland.

Round-up graph
Round-up graph

Given the consistently high number of UK Economy mentions running up to the election, it seems surprising that this theme should be so promptly dropped

But looking below the surface, the Conservative party may be keen to break away from a messy election period that focused on the economy as a highly contested theme. Instead they may be staking their claim on a number of relatively less debated themes. A focus on Media and Communications by many parties signifies the role of the press and polls after the election, as well as before - we have seen heightened media presence of some of the UK's biggest name politicians (though not necessarily for the reasons they were hoping for).

Round-up graph

Despite high mentions of the UK economy, the Green party seem to be re-focusing on one of their core themes - Climate Change. In contrast to the charts from two months ago, we see that over the last week Transport and the Environment receive a relatively low number of mentions. This will likely change over coming months as specific issue parties retreat from the election battle ground where core themes like Tax and revenue and Business and enterprise have been commonly debated.

Round-up graph

The Labour party has seen least change to the chart over the last week compared to before the election.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband and former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg resigned post-election, which places the parties in a state of reorganisation. Because of this, we may be witnessing a sense of inertia in new issues being mentioned on Twitter.

Round-up graph

We see that Scotland takes third place on Plaid's top themes chart

This may be as a result of renewed solidarity among devolved administrations or attention given to the SNP's national success that some may wish Plaid to emulate in Wales. 

Prior to the election we saw the alliance against austerity comprised of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. In another example of cross party action, a petition has been signed by the 5 party leaders of Ukip, the Lib Dems, the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru on voting reform. There have been suggestions that this election was the most disproportionate in British history. This rests on the facts that UKIP won just one seat despite collecting 12.9 per cent of the vote, while the Greens also won one seat despite receiving 3.8 per cent support, and the Liberal Democrats won 1.2 per cent of seats on 8.1 per cent of the vote.

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UKIP have continued to focus on Immigration and Europe - which, alongside Media and Communications forms their top three themes. Media attention has been aimed firmly at Nigel Farage, with many calling for Farage to honour his promise of resignation if he didn't win the seat of South Thanet in Kent. This was honoured, for three days, until UKIP members rejected the resignation and reinstated Farage as party leader.

The post election focus on Scotland does not escape UKIP's top 10 themes either. Over the course of the last few months UKIP rhetoric on Scotland has revolved around the Barnett Formula (the level of public spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, dictated to reflect changes in the powers devolved to them) which Nigel Farage alluded to throughout the television debates. This theme formed an important part of UKIP's manifesto regulation reform pledges.

Analysis conducted for the live television debates provided unique insights into public sentiment about particular themes with data displayed in real time. This enabled us to distill the big issues that engaged the Twitter active population to understand what pushed voters' buttons and what issues were set to divide the population along party lines.

Above all, the realisation that context is key was crystallised. Understanding the way that different platforms - from websites to Twitter to manifestos - are used by politicians was key in interpreting what was being said. From the beginning of the project, it was acknowledged that Twitter data is highly time and event sensitive, so we also use manifesto and party website data - which is less prone to fluctuation. This gets us outside the social media bubble and challenges the assumption that this election was a predominantly digital race - the use of speeches and longer documents takes into account some of the analog campaigning that remained core to the election effort for many parties.

Round-up graph

Look back over one of the most unpredictable elections in recent history and the big issues that saw the Conservatives take a majority and many big names fall.

What lessons can we learn for 5 years' time? Analysis conducted throughout the General Election is available on the Political Futures Tracker homepage.


George Windsor

George Windsor

George Windsor

Senior Policy Researcher

George was a Senior Policy Researcher in the Creative and Digital Economy team.

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