The expert who predicted Trump, Brexit — and Scott Morrison

Professor Stantic’s accurate prediction comes as polling companies face scrutiny on the results published during the election campaign: despite trailing in every major poll for three years, the Coalition retained power on Saturday night and could yet form majority government.

With polling and betting markets missing the mark, experts are increasingly turning to social media to judge voter sentiment on a larger scale.

The signs were there at this election.

Mr Morrison’s own Facebook page attracted 25 per cent more interactions — reactions, comments and shares — than Bill Shorten’s, while the Liberal Party’s central Facebook page had almost double the levels of engagement its parallel Labor account had.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s Facebook page outperformed Mr Shorten’s, and far-right senator Fraser Anning’s page had slightly fewer interactions than the Labor leader.


The figures, sourced from social media monitoring software Crowdtangle, come as a surprise given Labor started the campaign with a larger online following than the Liberal Party. Between the 2016 and 2019 federal election campaigns, Labor grew its Facebook following by 49 per cent, while the Liberal Party increased its following by only 36 per cent. Labor had, on average, a slightly higher interaction rate than the Liberal Party.

Experts say Mr Morrison’s emphasis on video content spearheaded a clever social media strategy that bucked that pre-election trend: videos published on Mr  Morrison’s own page attracted more than double the views of those on Mr Shorten’s page throughout the election campaign, despite each sharing a similar number of videos.

On Instagram, Mr Morrison received 112,000 likes and comments compared with Mr Shorten’s 71,000.

Political communications expert Scott Wright said it was clear the Liberal Party was putting a lot of effort into its online presence.

«Looking at the comments — and further systemic analysis is needed — Scott Morrison’s Facebook comments look quite heavily moderated; it looks unnatural in its positivity. It’s also interesting to see ‘Scott Morrison’ (his team of social media managers) replying actively in the comments,» the Melbourne University associate professor said.

«It reads as a crowd of supporters — and this minimises any potential impact in terms of undecided voters and might inflate the figures here.»

Dr Wright noted that because researchers could evaluate only public pages, support from «quiet Australians» might be missed.

«When Scott Morrison talks about quiet Australians, I think he has a significant point. Online, quiet Australians are either lurkers — who observe but do not comment — or are much more likely to comment in ‘safe’ online third spaces such as a parenting groups or sports forums: non-political online communities, where political talk emerges.»


The executive director of progressive campaign agency Principle Co, Daniel Stone, said the Liberals’ greater reach could be a result of broad-target advertisements and its personal focus on Mr Morrison.

«The Liberals spent quite a lot of money promoting ads on Scott Morrison’s page whereas the Labor Party went for a marginal-seat-focused campaign,» he said. «I think Morrison was really trying to make it almost presidential — just look at his campaign launch.

«The real question for me is whether or not it’s actually made people change their vote, donate or volunteer. Engagement’s noise, but it’s not actually what matters.»

For Professor Stantic, it mattered. In his eyes, his latest successful prediction is yet more evidence of social media’s crucial election role.

«We now live in a virtual world and are better accessed through social media. Public opinion could be better analysed from social media rather than just opinion polls,» he said.

«People are more honest when they’re talking to their friends rather than when they’re answering polls.»

Max is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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