The Saskatchewan Election:
A 2020 Perspective
Social Media and the 2020 Saskatchewan Election
By Dr. ARJUN TREMBLAY (PhD), Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Regina. His research focuses on the politics of diversity in the age of global populism and on politics and social media.
@ArjunTremblay | Arjun Tremblay | firstname.lastname@example.org
Miss ALANNA DECORBY, Undergraduate honours student at the University of Regina majoring in philosophy, politics, and economics. She is currently writing an honours thesis in political science focusing on populism in the United States.
@Alanna_DeCorby | email@example.com
Twitter plays an important role in politics: it was a key component of the Trump campaign’s electoral strategy in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and it is widely used by political activists and civil society to organize and mobilize. What role does Twitter play in Saskatchewan politics? In addressing this question, we examine which political parties use Twitter, who the most ‘prolific’ Tweeters are among party candidates, and the effects of the pandemic on how MLAs use Twitter.
Table 1 shows the number of candidates per political party with active Twitter accounts as of October 24, 2020. In total, 39.41 per cent of all candidates (93 of 236) who ran in the 2020 provincial election had an active Twitter account. The vast majority of candidate Twitter users came from the Saskatchewan Party (40) and the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party (35). Overall, 61.5 per cent (75 of 122) of candidates running for Saskatchewan’s two major political parties had active Twitter accounts. By contrast, only 15.8 per cent of candidates (18 of 114) for all other parties had an active Twitter account.
Table 1: Political Parties and Number of Twitter Users
# of Twitter Users/
|Percentage of Twitter Users in Party|
|Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan||3/31||9.68|
|Saskatchewan Green Party||9/60||15|
|Saskatchewan Liberal Party||2/3||66.67|
|Saskatchewan New Democratic Party||40/61||65.57|
Table 2 highlights the 10 most ‘prolific’ candidate Twitter users; the list was compiled by ranking all 93 candidate Twitter users by the total number of Tweets that they have made. Most of the ‘prolific’ candidate Twitter users were relatively early adopters of the technology (Twitter launched in 2006); however, only two of them—Saskatchewan New Democrats Trent Wotherspoon and Ryan Meili—fall very close to or pass the 10,000 “follower” threshold and can therefore be considered “widely-connected Twitterians”[i]. None of the four ‘prolific’ challengers—Victor Lau, Larry Neufeld, Jared Clarke, and Brett Estey—were able to unseat incumbents in their respective ridings. Table 2 also shows that there are more than twice as many ‘prolific’ Twitter users from urban ridings (7) than there are from rural ridings (3).
Table 2: 10 Most Prolific Tweeters
|Candidate||# of Tweets||# of Followers||Joined
|Incumbent or Challenger [ii]||Party||Riding||Urban or Rural[iii]
|Victor Lau||76.3K||3,198||2010||Challenger||Saskatchewan Green Party||Regina Douglas Park||Urban|
|Greg Ottenbreit||22.7K||2,185||2011||Incumbent||Saskatchewan Party||Yorkton||Mixed|
|Trent Wotherspoon||17.5K||9,941||2010||Incumbent||Saskatchewan New Democratic Party||Regina Rosemont||Urban|
|Derek Meyers||15.5K||3,362||2009||N/A||Saskatchewan Party||Regina Walsh Acres||Urban|
|Larry Neufeld||14.3K||1,004||2014||Challenger||Saskatchewan Green Party||Rosthern-Shellbrook||Rural|
|Ryan Meili||13.2K||12.1K||2009||Incumbent||Saskatchewan New Democratic Party||Saskatoon Meewasin||Urban|
|Tina Beaudry-Mellor||13.1K||3,875||2009||Incumbent||Saskatchewan Party||Regina University||Urban|
|Jared Clarke||9,624||1,585||2009||Challenger||Saskatchewan New Democratic Party||Indian Head-Milestone||Rural|
|Jeremy Cockrill||8,684||1,488||2009||N/A||Saskatchewan Party||The Battlefords||Urban|
|Brett Estey||7,979||639||2009||Challenger||Saskatchewan New Democratic Party||Regina Rochdale||Urban|
Table 3 explores MLAs’ adoption of Twitter prior to and following the declaration of a provincial State of Emergency on March 18, 2020. In light of restrictions on public gatherings, the adoption of work-from-home policies, and other measures, we might have expected to see MLAs, who had not yet adopted Twitter, sign up for Twitter to remain connected with constituents. This is not what happened. In fact, no MLA signed up for Twitter during the time period beginning with the State of Emergency declaration on March 18, 2020 and ending on October 24, 2020.
Table 3. Twitter Users and the State of Emergency: Before and After
|Political Party||# of Twitter users before State of Emergency declared on March 18, 2020||
# of Twitter users after State of Emergency declared March 18, 2020
|Saskatchewan Party||30/46 (65.22 per cent)||30/46 (65.22 per cent)|
|Saskatchewan New Democratic Party||9/13 (69.23 per cent)||9/13 (69.23 per cent)|
The evidence presented in Table 1, above, raises an important question about electoral politics in Saskatchewan: why do small parties use Twitter far less than the two major political parties? Twitter is a free social media, which should increase its appeal as a communication tool to smaller parties, particularly those without access to the electoral and promotional resources of larger parties. Perhaps one of the reasons why smaller parties shy away from Twitter is because they already have a presence on other free social media, such as Facebook; for example, the Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan’s Facebook page has 27,018 followers[iv]. But this would still not explain why candidates for larger parties have signed up for Twitter at a much higher rate. What we could be seeing here is an attempt by larger parties to keep their base engaged and to prevent party-switching among voters.
Evidence presented in Tables 2 and 3 provides preliminary insight into features of Saskatchewan’s social and political landscape. Table 2 points to a possible ‘digital divide’ between urban and rural candidates in their use of Internet-dependent communication tools. This suggests that the use of Twitter by party candidates in Saskatchewan is likely contingent on availability and accessibility of Internet services for constituents in their riding. And, in Table 3, evidence that the State of Emergency has had no influence on MLAs adopting Twitter suggests that, in Saskatchewan, there is a reliance on tried and true methods of governing and political campaigning despite changing circumstances. Scott Moe made this exact point in his victory speech when, in thanking campaign volunteers, he declared, “you are the people that understand that elections are not decided on Twitter.”[v]
[i] As of 28, October 2020.
[ii] CTV News. (2020, October 26). Watch Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe's victory speech [Video]. Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aUNAGfq458&app=desktop
[iii] Only ridings that clearly fell within the borders of the Saskatchewan 2020 Elections’ “Composite City Maps” were classified as “urban”. Yorkton was elsewhere classified a ‘mixed’ riding (see https://globalnews.ca/news/6662306/saskatchewan-election-yorkton/) while the Battlefords was classified as ‘urban’ (see https://globalnews.ca/news/2546627/saskatchewan-election-2016-the-battlefords-riding/)
[iv] See Kim, M., et Park, H. W. (2012). Measuring Twitter-based political participation and deliberation in the South Korean context by using social network and Triple Helix indicators. Scientometrics. 90(1), 121-140. P.132.
[v] ‘N/A’ is used to denote a riding where the incumbent retired or resigned their seat prior to the 2020 election.