Leave supporters are more vocal,

but Remain has the most influence online

Our analysis of the UK political web shows that the right wing of the political spectrum is far more engaged in the Brexit debate than the left wing; the centre-right is splintered on the issue; and the most influential websites are advocating for Remain.

The web can appear as an ocean of unstructured content, fuelled by passions and interests. The reality is the web is highly structured. Understanding this structure – made of hypertext links – can reveal much more than content analysis based approaches.

Linkfluence, Westminster Advisers and Dr. Nick Anstead from London School of Economics have partnered to create the UK Political Web Observatory. Our objective: to provide insights on the UK political landscape through the analysis of its online representation and structure.

The EU referendum is our first research topic for this project.

The UK Political Web Observatory is based on the analysis of an interactive map composed of 819 UK blogs and websites: politicians, politically active individuals and organisations including parties. These sites and blogs have been identified through a hybrid approach combining technology and human selection (see methodology).

Our key learnings:

  1. The right wing of the political spectrum is more engaged in the EU referendum debate
  2. Brexit gets more traction than Remain on the UK political web
  3. The centre-right, leaning towards Brexit, emerges as the cornerstone of the EU referendum online debate
  4. Remain dominates centre and left communities, including Corbyn’s supporters
  5. Brexit supporters have vehemence, but Remain supporters have influence

We hope the UK Political Web Observatory generates a range of interpretations and debate.

The right wing of the political spectrum is more engaged

in the EU referendum debate

Of all political communities on the UK political web, those on the right of the political spectrum demonstrate a much higher interest in debating the EU referendum. 92% of right-wing websites are engaged on the issue, compared to 53% of centre-right websites and 33% of centre-left websites.

High levels of engagement amongst websites on the right of the political spectrum is perhaps to be expected, given the importance the right in general attaches to the issue of EU membership. The comparative lack of engagement by left-wing websites is notable. This could be partially attributed to Conservatives being in the driving seat of the referendum campaign.

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Brexit gets more traction than Remain

on the UK political web

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Taking into consideration all websites expressing a stance towards the EU referendum, Leave has a very slight advantage over Remain (47% vs 45% of expressed opinions).

Almost mirroring the participation in the Brexit debate, the most engaged communities – right-wing, far-right – are in favour of Leave, whereas the least engaged ones – centre-left, centre, left-wing – advocate for Remain.

Opinions on Brexit are strongly polarised in all political communities, with most having a disproportionate stance either towards Remain or Leave. The far-left and centre-right are the most splintered of the political communities.

The centre-right, leaning towards Brexit, emerges as

the cornerstone of the EU referendum online debate

The centre-right is splintered, but leans far more to Leave. This should worry pro-EU campaigners, as the result of the referendum largely depends on the capacity of the Conservative leadership to convince people who voted Tory in 2015 to back Remain.

Overall, 57 per cent of centre-right websites are backing Leave, with only 30 per cent of sites for Remain.

This would suggest that the online space and the activists who are involved with it are far more Eurosceptic than the parliamentary Conservative Party, where a slim majority of MPs are in favour of Remain. This mirrors divisions within the wider Conservative Party between those who want the UK to remain and those who want to leave the EU.

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With David Cameron pledging at the 2015 general election that he would not seek a third term as prime minister, the Conservative Party is facing a leadership contest in the near future. While slightly more pro-European Conservative MPs will shortlist the final two candidates, it is the grassroots that will ultimately decide who becomes leader.

As the Labour Party has discovered, tension between the parliamentary party and a more ideological activist-base can cause serious problems for a political party.

Westminster Advisers’ View

Considering that influential centre-right websites may shape the views of the Conservative grassroots, this seems to confirm the prospect that a pro-Brexit candidate may fare the best in the party’s forthcoming leadership contest – step forward Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Priti Patel. Leadership candidates orientated towards the centre ground of politics may struggle to win over the hearts and minds of the Conservative grassroots – a bad omen for George Osborne.

Remain dominates centre and left communities,

including Corbyn’s supporters

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With Labour and the Liberal Democrats having formally declared their support for Remain, this may come as little surprise.

Westminster Advisers’ View

There is arguably some misalignment between Labour’s online community and Jeremy Corbyn, who has historically been lukewarm about the EU at best and who has not been at the forefront of the Remain campaign.

Amongst the centre-left and left-wing communities, there is clear support for Remain. This reality may in part explain Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to endorse Remain. A man with few friends within his parliamentary party must at least listen to his supporters’ views. This throws up a wider point about Corbyn: is he a true leader, or is he led by those who voted him into power? 

Brexit supporters are more vocal,

but Remain supporters are more influential

Far-left, far-right, right-wing, libertarian and centre-right communities constitute the Leave group.

These sites make up a minority share of the political web, but they punch above their weight on the EU referendum issue. Together, the pro-Brexit group makes up just 38 per cent of all political websites we identified. However, this bloc constitutes 54 per cent of sites that have a stance on the referendum.

Brexiteers are also much more vehement in expressing their stance. Advocates strongly outnumber sympathisers on the Leave side (40% vs 7%), providing clear evidence that Brexiteers put their heart into defending their conviction, while their counterparts adopt a softer position (26% vs 19% on the Remain side).

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How does this compare to the political reality? For many political groupings falling into the above categories, Euroscepticism is their bread and butter. It’s no surprise therefore that online influencers in this sphere have taken an ardent stance. Nowhere is this more the case than the right-wing and far-right, both of which score 100 per cent for Leave.

We know that for most voters, the European Union is not a big concern, ranking very low when they are asked to name the issues they care most about. So while certain sections of the political spectrum may care about Europe deeply and make a lot of noise about it online, they are relative outliers in popular political discourse.

Westminster Advisers’ View

What could this mean for the future? In the event of a Remain vote it is likely that Brexiteers will continue to fly the flag for their cause. These political communities are clearly passionate about the issue, and the referendum result is unlikely to take the sting out of their tail if the vote doesn’t go their way, particularly if it’s a narrow margin. Either way, expect Leavers to continue to be relevant in the years after the referendum.

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Our measure of influence reveals another dimension of the Brexit debate.

Of the top 30 most influential* political websites in the UK, 18 are either advocates or sympathisers of Remain. Just 4 influential websites are on the side of Leave.

More generally, the average influence score for Remain websites within the UK Political Web is 40*, whereas Brexit websites score only 29*. It demonstrates that despite Brexit websites being more numerous, their reach can’t compare with the more established mainstream Remain websites.

Online influence, then, is clearly on Remain’s side. But we have seen in the past, particularly in the similar context of the French EU referendum in 2005, that this is not necessarily a good thing for the Remain cause. It can reflect a strong disconnect between political elites and the wider population.

* The measure of influence, or Linkfluence score, is based on the number of inbound links each website shares with the other websites of the map – the more a website is linked to, the bigger the Linkfluence score. It ranges between 0 and 100.

 

open this site in a desktop browser to navigate the interactive map

 

Methodology

The 819 websites composing the UK political ecosystem were initially gathered through the use of Linkfluence’s social media monitoring platform, Radarly, which explored thousands of websites and blogs matching a list of politically-related terms that published content between January 2015 and March 2016. From the initial sourcing list, Linkfluence’s algorithms identified the links between those websites, allowing to determine the relative influence of each site, according to the number of hypertext links – inbound and outbound – it shares with the other websites in the ecosystem.

It helped refining to a list of around 2,000 websites, that were then manually selected by analysts from the LSE, Westminster Advisers and Linkfluence based on the fact that they matched our political website definition: politicians, politically active individuals and organisations with political affiliation – excluding directories, aggregators, NGO and news services. All websites not sharing links with other websites have also been removed. Once this list of 819 websites had been collected, analysts have manually coded each of them according to their ideological outlook and stance towards Brexit. The 819 websites were then crawled and spatialised using inbound and outbound links they share with each other, to create a visual interactive map clustering websites in communities of interest.

The interactive map allows you to explore the websites composing the different political communities, understanding where websites sit in the network, which sites are the most influential, and visualise relationships between websites both inside and outside of their own political communities.

Note that the map is focused on the UK Political Web, we have consequently chosen not to include Brexit or Remain campaign websites. Their presence might have impacted the structure of the political landscape, while our intention is to look at the UK web political landscape as it is, with minimum bias, and overlay topics on this structure.

It is important to remember that the way politics plays out online is not the same as how it works in the offline world. However, we also know from parts of the world and many political parties that online conversations play a role in shaping debate, generating activism and fuelling mainstream news coverage. What happens on the internet does matter to real life politics.

We hope the UK Political Web Observatory generates a range of interpretations and debate.

Linkfluence is a global Social Media Intelligence company offering organisations a unique approach to monitor, analyse and activate social data. Linkfluence’s Radarly tracks and analyses more than 150 Million pieces of content daily to support global brands in their strategic decisions. Research services are core to our offering, with 10-year experience in designing cutting-edge methodologies, including web ecosystem mapping. Linkfluence has offices in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, China and Singapore.

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Dr. Nick Anstead is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics, where he researches political communication, elections and institutions. He is Director of the School’s MSc in Politics and Communications.

Westminster Advisers is an award-winning team of public affairs and communications specialists. We help organisations to grow through an improved understanding of, and engagement with, the political and policy environment. We advise our clients on:

  • How public policy change will impact them, and what to do about it.
  • Communicating with policy-makers, opinion-formers and the media.
  • Navigating local and national government decision making processes.

We also offer a specialist Policy Risk Analysis (PRA) service – a bespoke political and policy due diligence tool for investors.

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If you would like to know more about this project or get in touch with us, please use the contact form or call us on the numbers below:

For Linkfluence:
Mr. Anthony Fradet, Chief Operating Officer: +44 (0) 203 5144 562

For Westminster Advisers:
Ms. Lindsay McCallum, Account Director: +44 (0) 207 2271 644