If social media activity is a new barometer of an election campaign, then it appears Naheed Nenshi is cruising towards a massive re-election win as mayor of Calgary on Oct. 21. If he does get the win, it should not came as a surprise — Nenshi dominates online chatter.

His legendary social media savvy is reflected in the relative popularity of his own Twitter handle, @Nenshi, as well as the presence of active online supporters @Carter_AB (Stephen Carter) and @DollHouseYYC (Marc Doll). That's not to say there's no opposition. A small, but active anti-Nenshi community does exist.

How we're measuring 

Return On Insight monitored mentions of key phrases related to the Calgary election, capturing the content from blogs, news stories and comments on those posts, as well as social media, especially Twitter hashtags #yycpoli, #yyccc, #yycvotes and #calgaryvotes from Sept. 23, the official start of the campaign, to Oct. 8. 

Impressions — the measure of times an online comment was displayed, though not necessarily seen — represent the total reach of a given message, including the overall social media network of individuals, such as their number of Twitter followers. 

Nenshi’s only credible opponent Jon Lord, @JonLordCalgary, (who has actually been elected to city council and the Alberta legislature in the past), spent the midpoint of the campaign competing in a barbecue competition in Missouri. Granted, he made it back for Monday’s mayoralty forum — after finishing 445th at the cooking competition. Foreshadowing?

Few key issues are emerging, partly because of the predictable composition of the anti-Nenshi camp. First there are the always-vocal tax-fighters — the 10 per cent of Calgarians who complain about property taxes. They’ll likely show up to vote, but it’s doubtful they can get others to worry as much as they do about property taxes and development fees.

The second round of opponents — the group of developers who dared take on the purple orthodoxy of building “up not out” — also has its broader base of fans at times. But, like the tax-fighters, they can’t seem to capture the imagination of the masses in the same way Nenshi continues to do.

Polls consistently show Calgarians remain highly-satisfied with the direction of the city over the past decade and that sense of satisfaction only increased as a result of Nenshi’s response to June’s flooding — they say “all boats rise in a flood.” 

Online sentiment 

So what can we learn from analyzing the online conversations of Calgarians about the election in the first two weeks of the campaign?

First, during the flood crisis, single-day impressions of Calgary via social media conversations topped 50 million. So far during this municipal campaign, impressions about the elections have typically averaged around one and a half million on most days, peaking at almost 5 million on Monday night at the mayoral forum.

Average daily impressions Calgary election.

The average daily impressions around Calgary election keywords, based on social media mentions. (Return on Insight )

Second, social media monitoring shows that this is an election in search of an issue. Taxes, development fees, secondary suites and the mayor’s support of all incumbents have been discussed, but no one issue has dominated online chats, blogs and mentions.

In fact, there were twice as many people talking about Nenshi when he took on the Parti Quebecois’ social values charter and Ezra Levant in September than at any point so far in the 2013 election campaign.

If the current online trend continues, I expect turnout rates to drop to about 20 per cent come voting day.

Tomorrow, I’ll share our social media analysis of the some of the key ward races and why incumbents are enjoying strength online.

Social media keywords

Main keywords used on social media around the Calgary municipal election from Sept. 23 to Oct. 8. (Return on Insight)