Our analysis of the Queen’s Park leadership race was front-and-centre in a recent article in the QP Briefing about the growing importance of social media on the campaign trail.

Leadership race: #deadheat
By Greg Crone, QP Briefing, November 30, 2012

Liberal leadership candidates Kathleen Wynne and Sandra Pupatello are in a virtual dead heat in the race for hearts and minds, at least as far as social media is concerned.

An analysis of social media, conducted by Hill+Knowlton Strategies and provided exclusively to QP Briefing, looked at mentions of the first names, last names and official Twitter handles of the seven leadership candidates on Facebook and Twitter between Oct. 15, when Premier Dalton McGuinty announced he was resigning, and Nov. 28.

The analysis does not distinguish between sentiments or positive and negative mentions.

The analysis of posts on Facebook and Twitter largely mirrors conventional wisdom about how the race is going, which has Pupatello and Wynne as the perceived frontrunners.

This may be because a large number of the posts are generated by journalists, people who work in politics, campaign volunteers and supporters, as opposed to members of the general public, who are less likely to use social media.

The analysis found only 22 mentions separating the two frontrunners. There were 3,512 posts mentioning Wynne, or 23.8 per cent of the total of 14,745. That was just ahead of Pupatello who had 3,490 mentions or 23.7 per cent of the total.

In third place was Gerard Kennedy, with 2,485 mentions, or 19.9 per cent of the total.

The analysis showed a bunching of three candidates farther back in the pack – Dr. Eric Hoskins with 1,666 mentions (11.3 per cent), Charles Sousa with 1,527 (10.4 per cent), and Glen Murray with 1,426 (9.7 per cent.)

Harinder Takhar, who announced he was a candidate on Nov. 23 just ahead of the deadline, trailed the pack 639 mentions or 4.7 per cent.

An analysis of the social media posts over the period commencing with McGuinty’s decision to resign showed each candidate received a significant boost on the day they announced their candidacy. Kennedy received the highest spike in conversations, totaling 1146 mentions, on Nov. 12. The next highest spike was around Pupatello’s Nov. 8 announcement that she was running with 944 posts.

Wynne was third with 680 posts at the time she announced Nov. 5 but there was a double spike in posts around her announcement, with a preceding spike of 634 posts when she resigned from cabinet on Nov. 2, all but ensuring that she was about to become a candidate.

Murray was the first to officially enter the race and received 634 total mentions on the day he announced his candidacy.

Sousa received 601 mentions when he announced he was running.

Hoskins received 435 mentions on the day he announced his candidacy.

Takhar received 140 mentions on the day he announced his candidacy.

Kennedy’s spike in mentions when he announced may be due to the fact that he has a national profile as a former MP and former federal leadership candidate, resulting in mentions by people who pay attention to federal politics.

Interestingly, the spike in posts about Kennedy at the time he announced was nearly half of his total of 2,485 for the entire campaign period, indicating that social media conversation about him has trailed off since then.

An analysis of the seven-day period ending Nov. 28, which included Takhar’s announcement, not surprisingly showed him with the most mentions on social media, with 507 (29.2 per cent) of the total of 2,435 mentions. Wynne followed with 397 mentions (22.8 per cent), Pupatello with 275 (15.8 per cent), Kennedy with (13.7 per cent), Hoskins with 147 (8.5 per cent), Sousa with 116 (6.7 per cent) and Murray with 59 (3.4 per cent).

The first of five official leadership debates will take place on Saturday at 1 p.m. at a youth centre in Ingersoll.

Some campaigns have expressed frustration that the party is giving each campaign only five tickets to attend the debate. Area riding association presidents have also been given five tickets each. The debate is being live-streamed on the Ontario Liberal party website.

Pupatello’s campaign is gathering supporters at a pizza and pasta restaurant called Louie’s in Ingersoll to watch the leadership debate. Pupatello will go there immediately after the debate to meet supporters.

Hoskins released his rural platform Friday in his hometown of Simcoe in Norfolk County; Wynne was in Brantford at the Best Western Hotel for a meet and greet; and Kennedy was in Brockville talking about ways to increase opportunities for young people.

“I am keen to see youth get their chances,” he told St. Lawrence EMC News. “I am determined the next generation isn’t going to be the first to be worse off than the one before.”

Sousa, Kennedy and Takhar will be guests on Global Television’s Focus Ontario program this weekend. The program airs Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on Global and repeats Sunday at 7 a.m. 11:30 a.m. and midnight.