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Twitter Will Not Replace Traditional Polling Anytime Soon

In August, we ran a post on Twitter and its potential to predict the outcome of an election. Sociology experts at Indiana University claimed that what people say about political candidates on Twitter (and Facebook) is a very good indicator of how they will vote. Using data from more than half a million tweets that mention either a Democratic or Republican candidate during the 2010 congressional election cycle, the researchers found a strong correlation between a candidate’s “tweet share” and the final two-party vote share. As reported in the Washington Post, this Twitter data predicted the winner in 404 out of 435 competitive races in 2010 (a 92.8 percent accuracy rate).

The Indiana University researchers also claimed that what people say about a particular candidate or race (e.g. whether they’re commenting positively or negatively) is relatively unimportant when it comes to predicting the overall outcome of a race. Their research measured the total discussion surrounding candidates, without paying heed to whether or not a comment was favorable to a particular candidate.

Interesting findings, to be sure, but social media analysis is not going to replace traditional polling methods anytime soon. That’s because only 16 percent of American adults use Twitter, according to a Pew Research Center and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation survey. Of the U.S. adults on Twitter, only about half use the microblogging site as a news source, “making it an unreliable proxy for public opinion,” according to POLITICO‘s Dylan Byers.

People who use Twitter for news tend to be younger (45 percent are 18-29 years old) and more educated than the average American. About 40 percent of Twitter news consumers have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 29 percent of the total population. Using tweets to gauge popular opinion for a political candidate may be slightly more accurate for this younger and highly educated demographic.

So will ‘digital democracy’ and data extracted from social media platforms put polling professionals out of work? Not quite yet.

Click here to read more in POLITICO.

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