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‘No Borders’ Collie: Voters tweet dogs to spread pro-EU sentiment

Image credit: REUTERS/Toby Melville

According to E&T's analysis of Twitter activity, pro-EU voters are harnessing the #dogsatpollingstations hashtag in an attempt to drum up support for political parties backing a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

Under electoral law, British broadcasters are not allowed to report any details of political campaigning while polls remain open. This tends to oblige broadcasters to spend the day discussing uncontroversial matters such as the weather, notable figures walking to the polling station to cast their votes and – since the 2015 general election – pooches at polling stations.

While dogs may not be allowed inside all polling stations, many voters enjoy the burgeoning tradition of bringing their furry friends with them as they cast their vote and snapping a picture to post on Twitter with the hashtag #dogsatpollingstations. This recurring Twitter event is considered a wholesome 'paws' from the political tensions that inevitably peak during an election.

However, an analysis of Twitter activity today by E&T found that voters, politicians and campaigners are harnessing the popularity of #dogsatpollingstations to promote a predominantly pro-EU message on polling day, during which UK voters will elect 73 representatives to sit in the European Parliament.

An analysis of the most popular #dogsatpollingstations tweets found that – while the majority of tweets remained strictly apolitical – a large number contain pro-EU messages.

E&T examined 489 of the most popular #dogsatpollingstations tweets posted on 23 May 2019, taking note of written and visual content advertising the voters' views on Brexit, such as dogs wearing EU flags, support for explicitly pro-EU or anti-EU political parties, or hashtags supporting or rejecting Brexit. Almost one in three (29 per cent) of the most popular #dogsatpollingstations tweets expressed support for the EU. Less than one per cent of tweets analysed expressed pro-Brexit views.

Supporters of the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) – all of which support a second referendum on the final Brexit deal – were most likely to tweet their dogs and votes simultaneously.

Many other users – while not explicitly supporting the ‘Remain’ cause, pro-EU parties, or a second referendum – used the #dogsatpollingstations hashtag to express disdain for "fascists", "extremists" and "racists", with tweets joking about how their dogs despised these sorts of people. Although these Twitter users tended to be pro-EU, their #dogsatpollingstations tweets were not counted as explicitly pro-EU.

While pro-EU voters were most likely to gain traction by posting dogs with pro-EU slogans and symbols, there is no guarantee that this will give a significant boost to pro-EU parties or candidates in the polls.

Official Twitter accounts for regional branches and key figures for Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru all used the #dogswithpollingstations hashtag during polling. Meanwhile, Larry the Downing Street Cat posted a poem about the Twitter-famous dogs, subtly dissing them for their subservience.

Pro-EU campaigners previously made dogs the focus of their campaigning with the October 2018 ‘Wooferendum’ event, in which thousands of people marched with their dogs through London to demand a referendum on the final Brexit deal. Speakers at the Wooferendum March included former Labour press chief Alastair Campbell and Labour MP Stella Creasy.

Wooferendum founder Daniel Elkan told E&T that the findings matched his suspicions about dogs’ views on Europe: “In my experience of canvassing canine opinion, I would come up against about a nine-to-one ratio. I would ask dogs to pose in front of signs saying “Wooferendums not Brexit” and you can’t get a dog to pose in front of a sign that it doesn’t agree with.”

Elkan said that involving dogs in pro-EU activism helps soften a highly divisive political debate, and that while canvassing for a second referendum, he found himself having more open, respectful conversations with Leave voters when he was accompanied by his dog as a “conduit to engage”.

“People have these genuine fears about what’s going on, genuine concerns, and to be able to [communicate] that using humour and anthropomorphism is actually quite a healthy thing to be able to do,” he said.

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