Can tweets predict election outcomes?

Twitter may influence politics. It turns out that any publicity is good publicity — especially if you're a candidate running for public office.

Elaine Rita Mendus | January 14, 2014 | 1:14 am
twitter politics

A study from Indiana University Bloomington seems to suggest that a candidate’s ability to be mentioned in social media may directly correlate with the politician’s performance in elections. The findings of the paper even persist with variables such as candidate incumbency, district partisanship, media coverage of the race, time, and even demographic variables such as the district’s race and gender composition.

The study suggests that Twitter’s correlations with other measures of human behavior (such as film title mentions correlating with a film’s revenue) can be used to measure how people will vote.

To examine this hypothesis, the researchers assembled two datasets.

First, the 2010 midterm election outcomes and sociodemographic variables from all 435 U.S. House districts, and then a random sampling of 537,231,508 tweets posted from August 1 and November 1, 2010. From there, they extracted 113,985 tweets that contained the name of the Republican or Democratic candidate for Congress, and crunched the numbers – with variables accounting for incumbency in a district.

The study also had controls for capturing the “relevant aspects of the sociodemographics of each district such as median age, percent white, percent college educated, median household income and percent female.”

A second test of the model by the researchers for the 2012 election yielded similar results.

There are two points of note in this study. First, the study did not look at context of a tweet — a tweet bashing Nancy Pelosi versus one praising her were not distinguished. All tweets mentioning a candidate in any context were a part of this. To the researchers, this suggests that any publicity is good publicity. Second, the models show that social media is still important even when a candidate is working the front lines on the major networks.

This survey may serve as an early head’s up for any candidate for the midterms, or any 2016 hopefuls. Having a strong presence on social media to get a candidate’s message out, or at least get people talking about them, may be a sign of victory well before the ballots are cast. Even if it isn’t, everyone’s eyes will be on Twitter.

The study can be read in full here.

[Image via Kooroshication]

About Elaine Rita Mendus (50 Posts)

Elaine Rita Mendus is a undergraduate student working on graduating college (someday soon). Her career interests include geopolitics, the Hispanic community, and urban planning. She really wouldn't mind ending up a scriptwriter though...


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