By Lea Pachta

The General Election Buzz: As #bigotgate dented Labour’s campaign, the “sky’s the limit” for the Lib Dems as they steal a march on their rivals.

The third and final Leaders Debate last Thursday apparently caused little change in the #GE2010 race. Most polls again put the Conservatives in the lead, with the Liberal Democrats second and Labour a distant third. Once more, multiple polls and analysis from commentators immediately followed as the election campaign enters the last 72 hours.

While the majority of pollsters put David Cameron and the Tories in a commanding lead as we enter the final straight, does online sentiment follow this trend or has the blogosphere drawn a different picture?

Throughout the duration of the #GE2010 campaign, we are using Meltwater Buzz to monitor and analyse online conversations in the run up to 6 May. Meltwater Buzz, uses an average of online sentiment (both positive and negative) to identify changes in sentiment. This is sourced from literally everything online and not restricted to just Twitter: blogs, microblogs (such as Twitter), social media sites (such as Facebook), forums, message boards, Wikipedia, videos, comments in response to article/blogs/etc.

Being able to identify changes in sentiment for each party provides a more complete picture of who is winning the online battle beyond just share of voice.

Since the first Leaders Debate, at which point all three parties came together in what was clearly a three-horse race, there was little change in sentiment between the contenders. But this has now all changed.

Since we saw the huge spike for the Lib Dems, registering +27% on 22 April, most likely due to the popularity of #nickcleggsfault on Twitter, we suggested that the Lib Dems’ online bubble has perhaps burst as they suffered a huge 36% drop over the last weekend in April.

However, the Lib Dems have been campaigning hard with buoyant Nick Clegg suggesting that they have taken Labour’s place in UK politics and the “sky’s the limit”, backed up with the declaration that the Lib Dems are now fighting to win seats they never thought they could gain a few months ago, perhaps up to 100 extra MPs.

Nick Clegg’s bullish stance certainly appears to be paying dividends in the online space, with the Lib Dems the only party to register positive sentiment over this weekend, registering another considerable spike on 1 May to be 18.5% ahead of second placed Tories at 15%.

Tony Blair’s campaigning for Labour at the end of last week appears to have helped arrest the downward slide. Indeed, Labour, although still third behind the Tories and Lib Dems, are edging slowly up towards neutral sentiment having yet to record any positive sentiment throughout their election campaign since 6 April.

As we enter the final straight, the parties do appear to be coming together again in what will be a fascinating final few days before voting on 6 May. As of the end of the weekend, the Lib Dems settled down to be the only party with positive sentiment, at 0.5%. The Conservatives, having been knocked off their pedestal over the weekend, are second with a negative sentiment of -2%. Labour trail in third place, but are not as cut adrift as in previous days, and are now just 1.5% behind the Tories, with -3.5%

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