Measuring Political Buzz with Twitter

Telephone polls have been in their dying throes for years. At about 12% response rates, they shouldn't even work now. But they do, so far. That said, pollsters expect them to die at any moment.

I preparation for the demise of telephone polls, pollsters have been looking for alternative sampling methods for years. Once Random Digit Dialing no longer produces workable probability samples by phone, we will need reusable representative panel groups, or some other way of gathering survey respondents that will allow us to estimate mass public opinion with statistical significance.

While pollsters look to solve their problem, the online world has been evolving a complement (and maybe alternative) to polling methods: buzz metrics. In 2008, this took the form of Yahoo search statistics for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which proved to be a better predictor of the New Hampshire primary results than the last poll conducted on the Sunday before the Tuesday vote. Even subtracting out searches for Clinton's "diner cry," her searches were soaring as Obama's were flattening. On Tuesday, contrary to the pollsters' predictions, Clinton won New Hampshire.

Now, Twitter, Topsy, & USA Today have teamed up to create the Twitter Election Meter. It combs through a couple million tweets mentioning Obama and Romney every week and ranks each candidate for the sentiment expressed in those tweets. The score is converted to a 0-100 point scale, where 100 is super awesome, 50 is neutral, and 0 is blech!

Paul Singer, Politics Editor at USA Today (@SingerNews), said of the project that has dominated his life these past few weeks that it made clear how negative the vast majority of tweets are. People are more likely to retweet the negative comments, thus pushing the negative to positive tweet ratio towards its upper limits.

The dominance of negativity isn't surprising. We know that "no" is easier than "yes." Ballot initiatives are more likely to get a no vote, it is much easier to scientifically reject an hypothesis than affirm one, and the press is more likely to lede with bad news. Some might say it is human nature to decline.

With all that said, it will be interesting to see how the Twitter Election Meter fares in predicting the election outcome and how it tracks with opinion polls. I'm predicting it will do well.

Check out my interview with Paul Singer on today's (August 4, 2012) Take Action News with David Shuster social media and politics segment (all TAN archives are on iTunes).

Related Articles
Keep reading Show less

Five foods that increase your psychological well-being

These five main food groups are important for your brain's health and likely to boost the production of feel-good chemicals.

Mind & Brain

We all know eating “healthy” food is good for our physical health and can decrease our risk of developing diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. What is not as well known is that eating healthy food is also good for our mental health and can decrease our risk of depression and anxiety.

Keep reading Show less

For the 99%, the lines are getting blurry

Infographics show the classes and anxieties in the supposedly classless U.S. economy.

What is the middle class now, anyway? (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs

For those of us who follow politics, we’re used to commentators referring to the President’s low approval rating as a surprise given the U.S.'s “booming” economy. This seeming disconnect, however, should really prompt us to reconsider the measurements by which we assess the health of an economy. With a robust U.S. stock market and GDP and low unemployment figures, it’s easy to see why some think all is well. But looking at real U.S. wages, which have remained stagnant—and have, thus, in effect gone down given rising costs from inflation—a very different picture emerges. For the 1%, the economy is booming. For the rest of us, it’s hard to even know where we stand. A recent study by Porch (a home-improvement company) of blue-collar vs. white-collar workers shows how traditional categories are becoming less distinct—the study references "new-collar" workers, who require technical certifications but not college degrees. And a set of recent infographics from CreditLoan capturing the thoughts of America’s middle class as defined by the Pew Research Center shows how confused we are.

Keep reading Show less