Social media continues to grow as a force in political campaigns, with candidates launching Facebook and YouTube pages. But the micro-blogging service Twitter is emerging as an instant source of feedback, especially in the 2012 Presidential Debates. This gives citizens unprecedented influence over how pundits and politicians interpret each candidate's performance. It's no longer necessary to wait for polls — an analysis of Tweets can help predict winners even before the end of each debate, and help each camp regroup for the next round of questions. This shift towards more citizen participation in the coverage of political events is important to journalists, scholars and voters because it strengthens civic engagement with the political process.

To further understand how Twitter is affecting the political campaign, three different groups — University of Southern California, Crimson Hexagon and Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, — analyzed Twitter conversations during the first Presidential Debate. They each came to different conclusions.

Here's an overview of how they differed in their findings:

  1. USC's Twitter Sentiment Analysis Tool revealed a 2-to-1 gap in positive/negative Tweets in favor of Mitt Romney. The researchers used Amazon's "Mechanical Turks" to train a computer algorithm to code the Tweets either positive or negative. "Tweets in general and political Tweets in particular tend to be quite sarcastic, presenting significant challenges for computer models," writes the development team.
  2. Crimson Hexagon, a Boston firm that uses data analytics developed at Harvard University, found that Tweeters were much more critical of Romney than President Barack Obama. But this reflects an abundance of criticism for the Republican candidate, rather than an outpouring of support for the president. Crimson analyzed 5.9 million Tweets from the debate's start until the following morning, as compared to the other two group's analysis of just 90 minutes of debate time. The research found that 17 percent of the Tweets were jokes.
  3. The RJI research team's analysis of national and Tweets from three metropolitan areas – Jacksonville, Dallas and Seattle - focused on what issues or topics generated the most Tweets per minute. Jobs and bank bailouts ranked as the number one topic among Tweeters with 21,963 Tweets per minute at its peak. Romney's comment about cutting subsidies to PBS and, specifically, Big Bird, lit up Twitter with 21,124 Tweets per minute. The researchers found that Tweeters stayed active throughout the 90-minute debate, showing that social media use does not drop off as the debate drags on. Researchers believe that people are drawn into watching debates via their ongoing social media activities. The RJI researchers used DataSift and Topsy Pro, two social media analytics software programs, to gather and analyze the Tweets. Three newspaper partners promoted hashtags - #stdebate, #jaxdebate and #dmndebate to encourage readers to Tweet. 


Related Stories

comments powered by Disqus
MU | Missouri School of Journalism | University of Missouri