IndyRef Twitter Analysis: Most talked about policy areas

In the latest post in our series examining Twitter and the independence referendum debate, we turn from analysing who is participating to exploring what is being discussed. Our first trawl of the text of tweets using #indyref hashtag in the period January 2014 – April 2014 identifies those issues most frequently discussed.

The findings for Jan – April inclusive are contained in the first bubble chart in the upper left. We counted word frequencies within the text of the tweets collected (c.750,000) which were then sorted and analysed by policy areas/issues. The frequencies themselves offer no information about sentiment or how the issues are discussed, but we can see which issues feature strongly in the traffic.

To provide a source of comparison, we separated out the frequencies for the month of April. The chart for April show how flash points in the debate can dominate traffic over shorter time periods. The prominence given to the CBI in twitter traffic following media coverage of the registration by the CBI as a recognised campaigner with the electoral commission and the subsequent departure of CBI member organisations illustrates this point.

As an additional comparison, we compared the posts published on the main websites of Yes Scotland and Better Together to see if the policy issues that featured most strongly on these sites correspond to the patterns shown in Twitter traffic. The two bubble charts on the righthand side show the relative word frequencies for those websites for the same Jan – Apr period. They show that neither campaign maps directly to the #indyref twitter traffic. Yes Scotland has a similar spread of issues but in different proportions, whereas Better Together appears to have a much heavier focus on economic issues when compared with conversations on #indyref in twitter.

The legend allows easy comparison between the four bubble charts. Selecting the ‘highlight selected item’ option to the right of the legend title (a pencil will then appear when hovering over any of the words) allows you to select an issue which will then be highlighted across the bubble charts. It should be noted that users can make direct comparisons between the size of bubbles in any one chart but care needs to be exercised in comparison between different charts. This option however does allow users to highlight one issue and see its relative importance in each respective chart.