If you are reading this you are probably quite interested in politics. As the nation’s politicians, activists and media work themselves into a frenzy over our new prime minister, what happens next on Brexit, and who got what jobs in the government, we at Ipsos MORI thought we would look at what people were actually talking about on social media.
Confirming that Boris Johnson has his work cut out to unite Britain, with heckling as he entered Downing Street, #NotMyPM rapidly took off on social media, being shared 30,000 times in the twenty-four hours following the leadership announcement. This was well ahead of #BackBoris or #BorisDay and the like.
At the same time, Johnson’s star quality means he is currently outshining all other politicians on social media — completely swamping the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, and virtually every other British politician, including Nigel Farage. It looks like a “Boris bounce” is on its way — the big questions are how he will use it and how long will it last? Most new prime ministers experience a lift in their personal ratings and those of their party of at least six points, which could make all the difference — if an election were to take place now.
He has a very limited time to make a difference on the key issue he campaigned for. Talk of a no-deal Brexit rapidly swamped all other political conversations on social media, as the new prime minister announced that the head of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings, would be one of his chief advisers.
Possible tax cuts and a potential general election are the next most frequently mentioned issues on social media when the public talk about politics. As the nation goes off on its holidays, following Johnson’s first speech as premier, Westminster looks to be very busy indeed, particularly with a long list of promises of more money for social care, more money for the police, more for education.
We also have full fibre broadband, high-speed rail and changes in tax rules to encourage investment: the lights will be on late at the Treasury to work out how to pay for all this in the budget. None of this has really registered with the public yet — all they will notice is not the detail, but the general mood of sunny optimism that the prime minister hopes will sustain him. The big question is whether PM Johnson will get bolder still in September and decide that it is “do or die” for a general election.
After all this, it is worth putting politics in its place, even as those of us interested in it obsess about what will happen next. Immediately following the announcement of our new prime minister, no political hashtag got more than 30,000 or so mentions. In contrast there were more than 240,000 mentions of #loveisland on social media. This is a healthy reminder for anyone in the Westminster bubble that for millions of Britons, politics is something they only follow in detail at election time, and many not even then.
In the same way that in early 2016, most people did not see the EU or Brexit as a key issue facing the UK, which now swamps everything else, the public really do have better things to do than obsess about politics — until they have to. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that.