In the next edition of the IAMCR, bound to happen in Nairobi this year, MODA is going to present a paper on the Portuguese presidential election that took place in 2021. The paper, submitted to the Political Communication section of the event, seeks to shed some understanding on the different communication strategies adopted by the users on Twitter during the election campaign. The abstract is as follow:
For years Portugal was portrayed as a solid European democracy where extremist Right-wing political manifestations were almost non-existent. Despite the emergence of populist discourse inclined political micro-movements at least since 2016 (as we have demonstrated with an analysis of 1400 Facebook pages), it was only in 2019, with the emergency of a new political party – Chega!
(‘Enough!’) – that the extremist Right-wing managed to elect one representative to the national Parliament.
The January, 24th, 2021 Presidential Elections – where Chega!’s leader presented himself as a candidate – were both a test to the adaptation of the political system to a new force, and a fertile ground to analyse communication strategies.
Our purpose was to study Twitter conversations relating to the elections trying to assess if: 1) the presence of an extremist Right-wing candidate would influence discourse; 2) overtly Right / Left participants used different strategies. Between November, 2nd and January, 22nd we have gathered over 420,000 tweets mentioning at least one of the candidates. Data was collected via Twitter’s API, with the help of TCAT, and later processed in R. To assess users’ political inclination, we used qualitative human coding, based on the presence of one in four indicators (overt support for candidate in bio or profile photos, sharing of a tweet with clear indication of support, usage of specific politically explicit hashtags, publication of tweet declaring personal preference). Detailed analysis was conducted based on sampling.
Preliminary results emerging from the produced weekly reports indicate that the extremist Right-wing candidate (which was the 3rd most voted in the country, sextupling the votes obtained in 2019) very much dominated the debates on Twitter, not only as a result of its own campaign actions/pronouncements but mostly as a result of being pretty much a focus of attention to other candidates and their supporters. Interestingly, users identified with the Left were more vocal and more dynamic in their interactions than users identified with the Right. The re-elected president had almost no presence in the online debate indicating that Twitter in Portugal is still very much a space for a loud minority which only marginally should be perceived as representative of the national population.