GE14: Sheer lucky coincidences or brilliant yet subtle social media strategising by PH?

by Sharala Axryd, Founder of The Center of Applied Data Science

With Malaysia’s 14th General Election done and dusted, the nation now stands proud after hitting several major milestones simply by expressing our democratic rights. We now have the world’s oldest elected government official as our Prime Minister, the first female Deputy Prime Minister in Malaysia’s history, the first time an opposition coalition has wrested control of the Federal Government from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition that has been in power for the past 60 years, the youngest Member of Parliament voted in at the age of 22 and even the emergence of the first ever supermajority victories in Malaysian democratic history.

In The Center of Applied Data Science’s (CADS) latest article, we revealed interesting election-steering theories in the week leading up to polling day. We parted with the crucial insight that “the election engine will need to play a highly-tense & calculated game of anticipation to see who can pull of the right content and impact that will follow voters into polling booths on the 9th of May 2018.” In this edition, we will share how the last few moments of any election campaign can ultimately make or break the efforts of weeks and even months’ worth of election campaigning and lobbying.

Focusing once again on Twitter data (refer to the last article for the rationale), we studied Tweets collected on the 8th and 9th of May 2018, which were the last campaign day allowed and Election Day itself. Our focus in this rendition of the study was to see if there were any sentiment altering events that could happen within this timeframe, and how vastly it could alter the sentiment being built upon by respective coalition parties over the election period.

We collected 155,615 tweets from 1st March to 5th May related to the GE14 that provided a collection of interesting insights and patterns. These, in turn, contributed to validating our initial insights and ultimately led way to the results that GE14 uncovered for Malaysia.

PH Top Social Media Posts (8th May and 9th May)

To Social Media or Not To Social Media

The biggest gap that we picked up from our initial report was the social media maturity that the three competing coalitions had going into GE14. Let’s look first at the Gagasan Sejahtera (GS), an informal coalition between Parti Islam Se-Malaysian (PAS) and Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia (IKATAN).

GS chose to employ a more grassroot driven engagement that translates well for their personal touch-driven feel consistently driven from the inception of the party. This left GS going into the election with an almost bare-minimum social media presence where most of the content in the Twitter-space were general mentions rather than deliberate content development by the coalition.

However, GS walked into GE14 on a more neutral sentiment compared to the Barisan Nasional (BN), which was saddled with a heavy baggage of negative sentiments attributed from several legacy factors. While a lot of the chatter and content surrounding BN may be contrived as “gossip” or “petty personal attacks”, this is a typical sentiment position that most long-term ruling parties heading into a general election would find themselves in.

The whole premise of the study is a “Sentiment Analysis” of the public, which by definition is heavily associated with personal emotions of the people as well as active brand and stakeholder management by BN. Burdened even further with perceptions of a power stronghold as well as numerous scandals and negative sentiments carried over from peculiar incidences in GE12 and GE13, BN began GE14 with a massive hurdle built upon the people’s dissatisfaction over the general state of the country.

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition was the clear champion in terms of social media maturity walking into the GE14. Faced with the growing perception (and numerous instances where perceptions were proven reality) that the Malaysian mainstream media is heavily controlled by the BN, PH turned to its active, mature and highly connected network of social media interfaces going into GE14.

They have depended on this social media presence not just as an election engine, but their way to get their message out to the people and actively correcting any misrepresented content being delivered by the mainstream Malaysian media. Knowingly or unknowingly, by actively leveraging the social media of each component party in the PH coalition, they built up a message of Hope, Unity and Nationhood that then became the overtone of the entire PH coalition.

This commanding presence easily consumed BN, which consisted of several long-standing component parties (ie UMNO, MCA, MIC, Gerakan, etc) but only adopted a social media presence built around the chairman of the BN. This pattern of insights consistently appeared on party-specific Influencer Galaxies that were created in all three renditions of our study.

Alongside the BREXIT Movement in the UK and the Cambridge Analytica scandal in the 2017 American Presidential Elections, Malaysia’s GE14 is just another clear example where social media presence can literally make or reshape the face of a nation, leaving us with not a question of “To Do or Not To Do Social Media”, but instead, of how to start building the right social media brand and profile for your organization, party or even country!

BN Top Social Media Posts (8th May and 9th May)

What’s Your Campaign Story

Having a fairly dormant social media presence pre-GE14, BN developed a campaign theme of accelerating the development of the nation via Rakyat-driven manifesto pillars (i.e., Affordable Housing, Youth Development, Digital Enhancement, etc.). While this is a solid campaign story for any run-of-the-mill coalition party, the first mistake of the BN Election Engine was that they did not consider the legacy that BN has engineered. A coalition party that has remained in power for so long needed a more impactful and game-changing ideation that would have reassured the Rakyat, should they be voted to stay.

The second mistake that BN may have made in their election engine is to build the brand story on the Chairman of the BN coalition. Conditional on the thought process that this was a conscious decision made by the BN coalition to revert the ground sentiment, which was unfortunately built around the caretaker PM and BN Coalition Chairman, the coalition unintentionally created a sustained, steady preservation of the negative sentiment without any active efforts to address it.

This was evident via the Keywords Analysis that we ran on all three of our renditions, where the positive sentiment from BN were extract verbatim from press releases and manifesto content from the BN Coalition Leadership, while the negative sentiment for the BN Coalition consistently picked up keywords and themes that were from issues and speculations long before the announcement of the Parliament dissolution.

On the complete opposite of the spectrum, the PH coalition component parties each had their own campaign stories, values and key sentiments that worked for the core of the party and its supporters. This would have been a complete disaster for the coalition if the component parties stayed detached and independent in terms of their campaign stories.

However, the inability to register certain component parties and the announcement of all component parties to be represented by the Keadilan emblem during campaigning and voting, inadvertently created a whole new wave of emotions – Unification for Hope. Supporters were stewing up negative emotions against the BN Coalition with keywords like “bendera, ROS, diturunkan” appearing in our analysis, while words like “undi, change, pledged, Negaraku” were coming up strong in support for the PH Coalition.

Be it engineered, sinisterly executed or mere incidents of pure chance, the incidents of inability to register a component party, selective dismantlement of PH opposition campaign flags, and even the sudden and bizarre rulings by the Election Committee on certain regulations pertaining Campaign Banners, created the perfect underdog story where sentiment was going strong and simmering to a boil on 9th May 2018. The selfless persona of the PH Coalition Component Leaders willing to set aside their respective party agendas and focus on the “Save the Nation” mission for Malaysia effectively put them on a fast-track to conquering Putrajaya.

GS, choosing to focus on its core voter demographic, set off their campaign trails by offering their name as a “more passive alternative for change” which promised to be less radical than the image built for the PH Coalition.

While these elements were not necessarily picked up actively in the Sentiment Analysis, a deeper-look into the themes of the Twitter elements that did contain GS consistently portrayed them as “the other party”. Not the perfect image for a vocal opposition front protecting the needs of the Rakyat but ideal enough for a party calling to preserve the existing harmonious environment of peace while still bringing changes. It was a successful campaign position for PAS, particularly in Kelantan and Terengganu that hold the lowest Broadband Penetration Rate per 100 inhabitants in West Malaysia (released for Q4 2017, by MCMC) at 75.7% and 81.9% respectively and even emerging the “kingmaker” in the formation of certain state governments in GE14.

PAS Top Social Media Posts (8th May and 9th May)

Significance of the Final Battle Cry

In our last rendition of the GE14 Sentiment Analysis, four distinct influx points of the Twitter events generation were identified during the 8th and 9th May 2018. On the 8th May 2018, 12pm period, there were an increased generation of Twitter events contributing to the announcement that the Chairman of the BN Coalition will be making a “special announcement” later that night. A vague indication of upcoming “special message” in a time where distrust is the go-to sentiment for the general population, naturally, the BN Coalition remained on the negative sentiment up to the point of announcing the “special address”.

From our last report, the data revealed that the BN Coalition saw minimal organic content generated from the voters contributing to the positive sentiment for BN. However, the negative sentiment associated with the BN Coalition saw a high volume of organic content generated which not only came from the PH Coalition but also the public. The Ruling Coalition did not incorporate the efforts needed to correct the negative sentiments tagged well ahead of GE14, and instead created an Election Engine which did not appear to address voter sentiment.

Understanding this dynamic, the Final Battle Cry wherein it was announced the promise for income tax exemption for citizens aged 26 and below, two days of public holiday post GE14 and five days of toll charges suspension during the upcoming Eid Aidilfitri celebrations were an unfortunate alignment to the “cash is king” perception that was evident in early analysis of the BN Coalition.

Simple analytics using pre-election datasets and living dashboard of sentiments would have given the BN Coalition room to maneuver the development and delivery of their content. Instead, the inability to adapt and recalibrate strategically against the volatile and highly emotional voter sentiment essentially spelt the fall of a six-decade coalition party that started off as the very coalition that helped build our nation.

The Pakatan Harapan Coalition, once again either by sheer lucky coincidences or brilliant yet subtle social strategizing, constructed the perfect “David vs Golliath” narrative that held strong into Polling Day. Capitalizing on BN’s single-persona brand built around its Chairman along with overwhelming negative sentiments that were not only addressed as a matter-of-national-interest, but chided as “ridiculous personal attacks”, the PH Coalition emerged as a solid coalition party with the credibility of a former Prime Minister strongly advocating for the glory days of Malaysia at its helm.

Using an online social media platform to broadcast their own Final Battle Cry, they promised a potential government that would guide a nation out from its dark moments into the light of its prime. The words used in the “Amanat Malam Terakhir” delivered by the Chairman of the PH Coalition were straight-forward, infused with overtones of imploring the Rakyat for the opportunity to heal national wounds, while constantly using keywords that were a strong reminder of the growing negative sentiment against the BN Coalition.

The trending of sentiment following the conclusion of the final campaign speeches by both the BN and PH Coalition Chairmans made it clear that the keywords the PH Coalition used (i.e., “sogokan, gadaikan, selamatkan) not only nullified the positive sentiments that the BN Coalition may have with the announcement of their election goodies, but instead evoked a completely different purpose for GE14. It was not just an exercising of a voter’s democratic right, it was the responsibility to save the sovereignty of our nation. To some these may be deliberate political strategies played, but the data was already revealing these patterns and sentiments even before the dissolution of Parliament in April.

The PH Coalition were capturing and tactfully building early sentiment amongst voters, breaking into a sprint as they entered the last leg of the election race. Voters wanted to feel like their concerns were being heard, which PH echoed vocally in their finale speech.

Bringing critical focus on the lack of BN addressing core contributing issues for its own negative sentiment, the PH Coalition built its own positive sentiment by painting the picture of a coalition that is willing to go against oppression and the uneven political arena built against them, all to protect and serve the only people that matter – the People of Malaysia.

Data Analytics and Malaysia GE14 – Final Thoughts!

While Malaysia leaps into uncharted waters via the strongest display of democratic right exercising in our history, we are also learning and (we hope) finally appreciating the role that data analytics has and could have played further in the different permutations of the GE14 outcome.

Do keep in mind that this study was done using a singular data source (Twitter events) constrained within the chosen data parameters for each rendition of the study. We utilized a Social Media Analytics framework to run predictive analysis through data collection and cleansing, sentiment analysis, online behavior analysis, topic modeling, influencers’ network detection and generating actionable insights.

With what is just a granular fraction of the potential input that true Big Data Solutions can crunch and analyze, we could already pick out the Election strategies of each of the coalition and the campaign stories that they would have leveraged on.

Now imagine the consolidation of the entire digital world and the digital footprint of the candidates from each coalition party and even the voters, notwithstanding the highly controversial discussion surrounding data privacy, ethics and election governance and integrity, Data Analytics has more than proven, in several instances of different national elections around the world, that it can provide insights and even recommend recalibration strategies while never missing a beat of the heart of constituencies and country.

With any study involving sampling of data, we understand that our insights generated from a small sampling of the Twitterverse would not be an accurate representation of the Malaysian voter population. We do acknowledge that sampling gap and have incorporated sufficient buffers in our analysis models to overcome any major result skews.

However, our predictions and insights have proven accurate and even materialized as actual election strategies undertaken by the coalition parties, purely attributed to the digital footprint and utilization pattern by the Malaysian voter public. With the assumption that the GS Coalition and their target voter demographic have effectively taken their campaigning and election engines to be predominantly centered offline, the digital social media space was open for domination by either the BN or PH Coalitions.

Remember that just because it is digital in nature, social media and the sentiment volatility that it can create or correct will not be void of emotions. If recent cases of social media bullying and online behavior patterns are any indication, there is in fact an increased tendency for people to over-react to certain stimulus/incidence acts, especially when they have the shroud of anonymity masking them.

With Data Analytics automating the laborious process of data collection and crunching the data to understandable graphs and tables, the traditional roles of Campaign Managers and Social Media Manager will start to execute actual strategies that they know will impact voter sentiments and actually have the data to back their decision in near-real time. Taking an unbiased approach to data opens the door to unseen insights. It provides a unique perspective that might turn out to be far more important than you ever imagined.

Another key consideration that we from The Center of Applied Data Science would like to emphasize is that this Malaysia GE14 Sentiment Analysis study was not run as a pure analytics project. While the technical team were putting in long hours just to build, refine and monitor the analytics model in the backend, we still required our team of SMEs to bring out the true value behind crunching this volume of data at such speed. This is similar to our philosophy that the transformation to become a Data Driven Organization should not and cannot be run as an isolated IT / Analytics project.

In our study, we needed people who could identify patterns from social interaction data, visualizers that could assist in testing the numerous hypotheses that we have formed and tested over the study, even down to understanding the psychological implication of certain “trigger words” or “actions” on the average public’s sentiment. In our efforts to capitalize on the vast potential of the digital data world and constantly evolving analytical tools at hand, we will always need visionaries who are fearless in not just questioning the unknown world of tomorrow but actively take control and shape it for themselves and humanity.

If you need more insight into the report or want to find out how Analytics could bring your organization to a great new future, like Malaysia is looking ahead to, contact CADS via this link.

This entry was posted in Commentaries.
This entry was posted in Commentaries.