Massimo Ragnedda and Maria Laura Ruiu (2017), UK General Election 2015: dealing with austerity SACS-o Working Papers, Newcastle University.
Abstract: This article investigates the nature of the conversation around austerity on Twitter during the 2015 general election in the UK. Specifically, it explores the kinds of messages referring to austerity, as well as the kinds of accounts involved (whether they referred to a private or public role on Twitter and in society) and their affiliation to politically or non-politically oriented organizations/bodies. The search on Twitter concerning the austerity topic (for the 39-day time period from 3 March to 8 May 2015) resulted in 16,015 tweets, which generally referred to austerity, and 11,146 tweets, which contained at least one relevant hashtag. While austerity was rarely mentioned by mainstream media accounts in the Twittersphere, this topic was widely discussed during the election campaign by private users. This could be seen as a limitation of agenda setting, since there is no correlation between the agenda set by the media on Twitter and the public discussion about it. However, we found a relationship between the offline mainstream media agenda and the discussion led by private users on Twitter, thus confirming, to some extent, the validity of intra-agenda setting. In fact, offline media events (talk shows, news articles and question times) seemed to trigger peaks in tweet-based discussions or mentions about austerity, showing that the agenda set by the offline media influenced the discussion in the Twittersphere. Finally, we found that, while austerity has clear implications for citizens’ daily life, it seems to be more of an “elitist” topic, mainly addressed by those who are already politically oriented and well informed on the topic.