Monitoring attention data to predict the French Election

Attention density favoured Le Pen up until the first round of voting in the French Election. Now Macron has momentum with the media and, therefore, a good chance of winning.

Source: Kaleida Data, 2017

Up until the weekend our data suggested that Le Pen’s lead in the French Election was insurmountable.

The pattern looked similar to what we’ve seen elsewhere this year — as if Le Pen had acquired a critical mass of attention density, a position where a sort of natural gravitational force pulls all media in around something.

Attention from mainstream media alone is not enough to create this force. Lots of things get heavy coverage and no response. And neither is viral distribution of things people say on Facebook. A viral story may have no value to it other than its own reflection.

Rather it’s the intersection of those two things that creates a sense of density and weight and real world impact.

Le Pen had that kind of gravity, even after a tumultuous February that included a ‘fake jobs’ scandal, a fraud probe, and a police raid. *

Since the beginning of 2017 the leading news orgs have been covering Marine Le Pen a lot more than all the other candidates. 40% have been about her, 30% about François Fillon and 21% about Emmanuel Macron with the rest spread out amongst the others.

With so much media attention focused on Le Pen she is obviously going to dominate how coverage about the candidates is shared on Facebook. In fact, prior to Round One articles about Le Pen earned 70% of all shares of coverage about the candidates with 26% split between Fillon and Macron.

In mid-April that attention market became destabilised. It was Jean-Luc Mélenchon who really changed things. It seemed to come from a big rally in Lille on the 12th.

Stories began resonating in the market about his increasing fame, his plans for taxing the rich, pumping €100 billion into France’s green economy, and his euroscepticism. Suddenly, shares of coverage about Mélenchon actually eclipsed Le Pen for the first time since we began tracking coverage of the candidates.

The whole thing seemed up for grabs.

Now that we’re down to two candidates things really have changed. And Macron is actually leading Le Pen in terms of attention. We’re tracking nearly 200 articles about Macron over the last 24 hours which have earned over 150k shares on Facebook. Le Pen no longer has the same attention density with just 150 articles in the same period and about 140k shares on Facebook.

Both candidates are probably outperforming expectations given neither represents the mainstream political parties, and it’s plausible that Macron is outperforming more than Le Pen given the many years she has already spent in the media spotlight.

Based purely on attention density as we’ve described here, Kaleida data now suggests that Macron is leading the race. A lot of news and sharing of that coverage will happen between now and election day. If the past is an indicator of what happens next then the daily shifts in attention will surely affect voting.

The side that can build the most coverage by mainstream media that is shared the most on Facebook is likely to come out on top.

* The significant caveat in what the data tells us here is that Kaleida is looking at English-language articles from major news orgs in the US and UK only. Without tracking coverage of the French media market interpretations of data about French issues have to be taken with many grains of salt.

Why Kaleida’s data says Le Pen will win

If sharing of media coverage is in fact an indicator of real effects in the real world then either Mélenchon or Macron will face Le Pen in the 2nd round. And they will lose.

We noticed interesting patterns in our data after Brexit that were reflected again in the US election. It’s not media coverage that affects change. And it’s not what people say on Facebook. It’s the intersection of the two — how people respond to media coverage.

We saw similar correlations when we looked at coverage of public companies and changes in stock price, though, of course, there is a long list of caveats propping up this idea still. The biggest caveat in terms of the French Election is that we’re not tracking French news sources.

But the data tells a fascinating story even though the science is not yet fully formed.

Since the beginning of 2017 the leading US and UK news orgs have been covering Marine Le Pen the most. 636 articles (40%) have been about her, 470 articles (30%) about François Fillon and 330 (21%) about Emmanuel Macron.

With so much media attention focused on Le Pen she is obviously going to dominate how coverage about the candidates is shared on Facebook. In fact, articles about Le Pen have earned 70% of all shares of coverage about the candidates with 26% split between Fillon and Macron.

The crazy February spike that included a ‘Fake Jobs’ scandal, a fraud probe, and police raiding the Front National offices increased the volume for all values but didn’t seem to skew the percentages all that much.

However, there are two signals that indicate a window is open for a challenger. The rate of sharing and sentiment both put a qualitative lens on these numbers.

Stories about Jean-Luc Mélenchon have recently been shared at a significantly higher rate than all the other candidates combined. He’s only received about 6% of all the coverage from the US and UK media, but those stories have travelled very successfully. At 1,200 shares per article on average vs 730 for all stories about the candidates the Mélenchon stories have been performing 50% better than Le Pen’s coverage since the beginning of March.

Another interesting fact: Mélenchon coverage has been promoted on the front pages of those publishers’ web sites only about 1,000 hours vs Le Pen’s 13,500 hours. In other words, readers have disproportionately embraced Mélenchon vs the amount of coverage and the effort used to promote that coverage.

In contrast, Fillon has been on a steady decline since February in all the areas we track. The amount of negative coverage about Fillon is striking, and the more that coverage gets shared the worse Fillon’s position becomes.

Le Pen, on the other hand, is getting more and more coverage with slightly more positive than negative sentiment.

Clearly, Le Pen is winning in the US and UK media markets for reasons that have nothing to do with the French.

Mainstream media is stuck between voicing the concerns of the people and amplifying the messages of the populists. That and the addictive nature of web site traffic that populist voices hand to them on a plate make it hard for publishers to resist being a player in the game. Le Pen is Brexit. Le Pen is Trump.

It’s as if a formula has emerged or a kind of perfect storm.

There are indicators that people see through this now. Macron and Mélenchon have both been climbing in recent weeks at astonishing rates. Shares of coverage about Mélenchon actually eclipsed Le Pen for the first time since we began tracking coverage of the candidates.

If the patterns we’re tracking are in fact interrelated with real world events then those trends are too little too late. The volume of both the coverage and the amount of sharing of that coverage by readers supports a win by Le Pen no matter who challenges her in the 2nd round. By these measures Mélenchon is the only one who stands a chance.

The size of United’s PR crisis

The negative response to the latest blunder at the airline is up there with some of the biggest stories of the year. It’s not impossible to fix this, but they’ve got a tremendous hill to climb now.

Late last week I flew United from San Francisco to London. As we got on the plane one of the other passengers gave a box of chocolates to the flight staff as an act of kindness and support for the awful week they’ve had.

The staff seemed to appreciate it. Everyone who works there is truly in the media spotlight. This level of attention is not what members of the United staff who didn’t forcibly remove a passenger asked for.

It may not be totally surprising that it happened. I can imagine what it felt like on that plane that day from many years flying with them. What’s really surprising is the scale of attention this story has achieved.

Nearly 300 stories have been published by the leading news orgs in the US and UK about the incident. Unsurprisingly, our analysis shows sentiment of the coverage is almost exclusively negative.

Source: Kaleida Data, April 2017

Those stories have earned nearly 1M shares on Facebook in aggregate. That’s a lot of unwanted exposure for the company. It surpassed United’s trouble with leggings from the previous week about four times over.

By comparison, coverage of Trump’s Muslim travel ban in early February ultimately earned over 7 million shares. This story isn’t at that level, but it ranks among the biggest this year, so far.

Fox News was first to publish a story that day. One of the passengers who recorded the incident posted the video via Twitter and mentioned @FoxNews, @CNN and local ABC affiliate @WHAS11 to get their attention. It worked. Though being first didn’t seem to give Fox the edge, as several others including CNN and The Huffington Post achieved more total shares for their articles.

The biggest story was the Washington Post’s. They promoted it immediately via their Facebook page and within an hour it was getting over 30 shares per minute. After that it rolled on at a steady pace of at least 20 shares per minute for about two days. The article is up to about 65k shares in total now.

Washington Post published about 50 articles on the topic. Fox News has done about 35. CNN and HuffPo have published about 20 each.

Articles about the incident earned about 3.1k shares on average vs a recent average of about 2k shares per article for all articles by all the publishers we track.

It was a big story for everyone except the Daily Mail. They published 30 stories and only earned about 1k shares in total for all that work.

Coverage of United Airlines is shared mostly by young, educated women with left-leaning politics. That demographic may not be the same one trading their stock, but the message is clear — shareholders didn’t like it.

United Airlines posted a comment from CEO Oscar Munoz to their Facebook page a few hours later to soften the blow. Over 100k comments followed, and 140k shares. 90% of the reactions to that post are angry faces.

Suffice to say that didn’t help matters. Maybe it made things worse.

This might be one of those death spiral moments where a company’s PR efforts only amplify their troubles. As if things couldn’t get any worse (though one should never say that about airplanes) in a separate incident a United passenger apparently got stung by a scorpion on a plane.

United would be smart to use this moment to do something really bold. Free tickets for passengers on flight #3411 and apologizing on morning television isn’t going to cut it.

It seems they need a cultural change at the company. If they start by valuing their customers more that may inspire them to do things really differently.

Maybe they should get political. Everything is political in 2017.

Reversing the tide of negative stories getting shared on social media means filling the Internet with positive ones about something people care about. How about randomly offering doctors, women and Muslim passengers free flights, upgrades and airport lounge access? Doing that every day would chip away at the problem in front of them externally and change the culture internally.

They can’t swing the conversation back with one story, but if our hypothesis at Kaleida is right, that sharing of coverage about a subject has a real impact on that subject, then United has a lot of media to generate that people care enough about to share on Facebook. They better get to work soon.

How sharing patterns relate to stock price

After analysing attention metrics for publicly traded companies we began looking for meaningful correlations with other performance data. The big obvious question to ask was this:

Do sharing patterns of news about companies have a relationship to changes in stock price?

We were very surprised at how quickly we found a positive result:

Sharing of coverage about companies appears to have an inversely proportionate relationship to changes in stock price. Source: Kaleida Data, March 2017

For the first 3 months of 2017 the FTSE 100 have moved in an inverse pattern to sharing volume. It’s unclear if media coverage affects stock price, but it appears that sharing of media coverage does.

The pattern in the pattern

What we’re finding with Kaleida is the act of sharing may have more substance to it than people have understood in the past. There have been indications of this with Brexit and Trump.

When people amplify news they are affecting the subjects of those stories.

Sharing patterns for coverage of publicly traded companies have an ebb and flow to them like anything else. Sometimes attention across the media is led by the subject saying or doing something. Sometimes attention is led by journalists who uncover something. And, crucially, sometimes attention is led by people who find a story interesting.

It’s in this latter class of behaviours that something triggers changes in the other direction. Instead of activity originating from the source that people respond to, there’s activity originating from people that affects the source.

Publishers all care very much about the impact of their journalism, but finding a clear line from a story to an outcome is much harder than it might seem.

Perhaps the problem is the media-centric perspective of that question. Perhaps the answer is more about what impact people are having on the subjects of the journalism they consume.

About the data

Kaleida analyses coverage from leading publishers in the US and UK. We’re looking at how they treat their stories, clustering articles from different publishers, connecting coverage to other data sources, tracking how coverage gets shared on Facebook over time, etc.

So far, we’ve collected and analysed half a million articles from about 20 news organisations, built profiles for about 100,000 subjects and tracked nearly 1 billion Facebook shares.

In our initial research on this idea we’ve only seen the correlation on aggregate data. In the same way that we’ve found that sentiment analysis works in aggregate much better than it does on a single story, we see the pattern on groups of companies but not on any single company’s stock price.

Sainsbury’s, for example, doesn’t show the pattern on its own. The FTSE 100 index, however, fluctuates inversely proportionate to the sharing patterns of all articles about FTSE 100 companies.

It’s also true that networks of things appear to rise and fall together.

In this case, where we’re looking at changes in stock price, the FTSE 100 overall seems to be affected by the sectors that get the most media coverage — supermarkets, retail, fashion, and travel. Companies in those sectors are in the news more, and the stories about them are shared more on Facebook.

This collective rise and fall is similar to the way Trump affects his daughter’s fashion businesses with the attention he draws.