A quick comparison - Bill English vs Jacinda Ardern's first days as leader on Facebook

Blogger Patrick Leyland this week wrote a very interesting piece Jacinda Ardern's and the Labour Party's sudden social media rise which, while extremely impressive, does need some context put around it. So I thought I'd do a quick bit of analysis myself by comparing her first five days as leader with Bill English's first five days back in December of 2016.

Even this doesn't tell the full story. While Bill English's page grew by 121.7% over those five days vs 19.6%, the relative interaction rate (that is the number of interactions by number of posts by average page like size) was much closer, with Bill English hitting 5.2% of his fan base engaging with his posts over those first five days versus 6.9% for Jacinda Ardern. With all this in mind, it's useful to think of the bigger picture around each leadership change:

Jacinda Ardern's rise

  • Replaced an unpopular Labour leader
  • Speculation about change occurring in media for months  before hand
  • Change occurred two months before an election
  • Had the largest Facebook page of any sitting Labour MP (58,400) 
  • Labour Party Facebook fans historically interact with content at a much higher rate (Online Activists)

Bill English's rise

  • Replaced a popular National Party leader and Prime Minister
  • John Key's resignation completely unexpected
  • Change occurred two weeks before Christmas
  • Had a very small Facebook page prior to John Key's resignation (12,800 fans)
  • National Party Facebook fans historically interact at a much lower rate with content (Quiet Tories)


It's important to understand this context when comparing the two leaders as it helps provide a much more useful comprehension of what's going on.

Looking at the data and thinking about the background of it all, it's made me realise is that Andrew Little's brand wasn't just toxic in terms of his own popularity and ability to reach out to voters, but that he was collectively dragging down the Labour Party and its MPs too. His stepping down has effectively removed that burden from the Labour Party and its seeing the benefits now.

Because if there was one thing that did strike me over my three years at Parliament, it was how poorly the Labour Party did online post the 2014 election. Whereas the Greens and Winston Peters both did well - Winston Peters in particular - Labour and Andrew Little seemed to be stuck firmly in neutral.

As to whether this first week spike translates into sustained momentum for Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party remains to be seen. As I wrote back in Brand Bill vs Brand Jacinda, getting the right leader is only half the battle for Labour. Beyond that there are serious structural and personnel issues that they won't be able to address prior to the election, so the extent to which she can reverse the damage that's already been done is difficult to judge.