The two main contenders for the presidency in Tanzania’s forthcoming elections are now known. CCM chose John Magufuli as their nominee in mid July, after which Edward Lowassa switched sides and will run for president on the Chadema (and thus also UKAWA) ticket.
Bosses in parties have tried to stage-manage the nomination process to generate maximum publicity for their party and candidate. And in one sense they have both succeeded: the newspapers gave blanket coverage first to CCM and Magufuli, and then to Lowassa and Chadema/UKAWA.
But in this internet era, we can begin to compare how well the two campaigns have captured the interest of people online.
There are two charts below, both showing trends over the past 30 days. The first shows the number of times each day that someone searched on Google either of the two candidates or President Kikwete – using Google Trends. The second shows the number of times anyone mentioned their names on Twitter – using a tool called Topsy. I have lined the two charts up so that the dates match, but it is impossible to compare the scales of the two charts, not least because Google Trends does not give actual numbers, just relatives.
I will post a couple of thoughts below, but before that, a note of caution about interpreting these charts. The online community is very small in Tanzania. It is also proportionally younger, more urban, more educated and wealthier than the population as a whole – all of which are factors associated with higher support for opposition parties in Tanzania. Further, the charts show data from worldwide – so they include search terms and twitter mentions from people in New York and London as well as in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma.
But with those caveats aside, there are several points worth noting here.
Most obviously, in both Google searches and Twitter mentions, John Magufuli peaked around the time of the CCM nomination meetings in Dodoma – July 11-13. Similarly, Edward Lowassa peaked around the dates when his move to Chadema was announced.
Digging a little deeper, we can see that on both platforms, Magufuli’s line was firmly on zero until the CCM meetings in Dodoma.
This serves as a reminder both that he was not a front-runner, and that he had never established either a personal online presence or supporters’ movement.
Again on both platforms, Magufuli’s bump was short-lived. By the following weekend his name had almost disappeared from Twitter. On Google, the bump lasted a little longer.
Most intriguingly, there is a striking difference between how the two candidates scored on the two platforms. On Twitter, Magufuli’s mid-July bump was more than twice as big as Lowassa’s bump later in the month. In contrast, on Google, the peak in searches for Lowassa was higher than the peak in searches for Magufuli.
It is not clear why Magufuli’s peak on Twitter was so much higher than Lowassa’s or why Lowassa apparently did much better in Google searches than on Twitter.