Social media study: Conservatives were top tweeters in 2010 elections

Jul 21, 2011

The results of a study on candidates' use of Twitter in the 2010 midterm elections suggest that Republicans and Tea Party members used the social medium more effectively than their Democratic rivals.

The University of Michigan study, among the first to examine the Tea Party's social media strategies, also showed that analyzing activity can lead to good predictions of election winners.

Various tools have become a key part of campaign strategies in recent years. In 2010, nearly a quarter of online adults used social networks including Twitter to engage with the election.

In this study, researchers from the U-M School of Information and the College of Engineering looked at more than 460,000 tweets---three years' worth from 687 candidates running for national House, Senate and gubernatorial seats.

"The conservative candidates---Republicans and members---definitely used Twitter more visibly and showed a more coherent set of messages and topics," said Eytan Adar, assistant professor in the School of Information and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "They also followed each other much more closely. I think it's fair to say they were much more cohesive in a lot of ways and at the end of the day that makes for a stronger campaign."

Conservatives, who made major gains in the 2010 midterm elections, tweeted about similar topics and conveyed a coherent message with a particular attention to economic issues, the researchers found. The top terms in Republicans' posts were "spending," "bills," "budget," "WSJ" (Wall Street Journal), "Bush" and "deficit." Over the study period, Republicans tweeted an average of 723 times.

With an average of 551 tweets (text entries) during the study period, Democrats posted less frequently. Their tweets covered a wider range of topics. Top terms were "education," "jobs," "oil_spill," "clean_energy," "Afghanistan," and "reform."

The study zeroed in on the posts of self-identified Tea Party members. Despite its grassroots nature, the Tea Party appeared to be running an organized campaign. Not only did members tweet more often, averaging 901 tweets during the study period, they exhibited behaviors suggesting a stronger community than their counterparts.

Tea Party members retweeted one another more often, rebroadcasting a colleague's message an average of 82.6 times, compared with 52.3 retweets for Republicans and 40 for Democrats. They used hashtags (keywords used to categorize tweets) an average of 753 times, compared with Republicans' 404 times and Democrats' 196. The researchers suggest this may be because the Tea Party members joined forces on Twitter to attack key Democrats. Among the party's most popular terms were "Nancy Pelosi," "Barney Frank," and "Clinton."

The researchers found that overuse of Twitter might not correlate with better election performance, though.

"In fact over usage might even repel the targeted audience to some extent," said Avishay Livne, a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
The study examined how Twitter behaviors could help predict election winners. By looking at the content of candidates' tweets, the number of followers they had, and whether the candidate was an incumbent, they were able to predict election outcomes with 88 percent accuracy.

"We found that candidates who are close to the middle of the network, and the middle of what is being discussed by everyone are more likely to be elected," said Lada Adamic, associate professor in the School of Information and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Adamic says the work also sheds light on how a candidate's positions correspond to his or her likelihood of being elected.

"This has been attempted in the past by looking at, for example, a candidate's past voting record or their responses to standardized surveys," Adamic said. "However, this data was frequently incomplete. It is interesting to see how candidate's activity on Twitter is connected with election outcomes."

Explore further: The 2011 English summer riots: Courts accused of 'collective hysteria'

More information: Full text of paper: "The Party is Over Here: Structure and Content in the 2010 Election" www.cond.org/partyat.pdf

Related Stories

The Twit-election: It's the conversation, stupid

Aug 18, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- When it comes to Saturday's federal election in Australia, Twitter users are clear: politicians who spend time in conversation get most out of the platform, and the Greens are exploiting this ...

Voter behavior can explain midterm mood shift

Oct 29, 2010

Based on news accounts predicting Republican gains in both houses of Congress and more energized GOP voters in Tuesday's midterm election, it appears as though the nation's political landscape could change again -- just two ...

New Republican Party 2.0 website unveiled

Oct 13, 2009

The Republican Party launched a redesigned website Tuesday with a heavy emphasis on the social media tools that Democrat Barack Obama used so effectively to win the last presidential election.

Recommended for you

Combating bullying in New Zealand

2 hours ago

Victoria University of Wellington's Accent Learning is rolling out a new bullying prevention programme for schools—a first for the Southern Hemisphere.

Why has Halloween infiltrated Australian culture?

4 hours ago

Halloween appears to have infiltrated Australian culture, and according to a University of Adelaide researcher, the reason for its increasing popularity could run much deeper than Americanisation.

The hidden world of labor trafficking

5 hours ago

When it comes to human trafficking, we often hear about victims being kidnapped or violently taken from their homes. But what about people who are forced into labor in the U.S.?

New poll reveals what Americans fear most

Oct 21, 2014

Chapman University has initiated the first comprehensive nationwide study on what strikes fear in Americans in the first of what is a planned annual study. According to the Chapman poll, the number one fear in America today ...

Study shows how texas campus police tackle stalking

Oct 21, 2014

One out of every five female students experience stalking victimization during their college career, but many of those cases are not reported to police, according to a study by the Crime Victims' Institute ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Husky
not rated yet Jul 21, 2011
a coherent set of messagess... you mean consistent flamethrowing and cursing, blaming Obama from causing hurricanes to long queues at KFC.
Dug
not rated yet Jul 21, 2011
This is BS. According to another recent study by the Pew Research Center only 13% of Twitter users are adults - which would seem to directly contradict this study "suggests" - but apparently doesn't actually confirm(?). Which makes you wonder whose agenda is being promoted here?

Msean1941
not rated yet Sep 02, 2011
Then we are agreed. The "content" of this article has been officially refudiated!