How big data can be used to understand major events

March 4, 2015, University of Bristol

With the most unpredictable UK general election looming in modern times, how can big data be used to understand how elections are covered by the media? New research has for the first time analysed over 130,000 online news articles to find out how the 2012 US presidential election played out in the media.

Academics from the University of Bristol's Intelligent Systems Laboratory (ISL), led by Nello Cristianni, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, analysed mass media coverage from the 2012 US using . The paper is published in the journal Big Data and Society.

This is the first study in which political positions have been automatically obtained from a very large amount of . The system created goes well beyond traditional word-association networks with the use of richer linguistic analysis of texts.

By analysing the individual campaigns of the main , Obama and Romney, the research team studied how each campaign was represented in the media and found one of the key issues covered by the media during the 2012 campaign was Obama's defence of his record on economic policy.

The findings suggest the issues of the Democratic Party the media focused on were the US economy and civil rights. Overall, media reporting contained more frequent positive statements about the Democrats than the Republicans. The Republicans were also more often the focus of negative statements by Democrats and other players.

The study found the Republicans had more divisive opinions on issues compared to the Democrats. The most contentious subjects in the campaign were the economic split between the two camps of tax breaks and the economy, and the split over gay marriage.

Saatviga Sudhahar, Research Assistant in Machine Learning in the ISL and Department of Computer Science, and the main researcher on the project, said: "Mapping the full electoral coverage by offline and online media is a very difficult challenge, given the large amount of data and the large number of sources available in advanced democracies.

"We believe that the methodology used for the study is a big step forward in the linguistic analysis of texts by using extracted relational data and could help us understand major events."

The research team used a semantic graph that analysed the text and linked it to identified noun phrases and verbs. The subject-verb-object triplets were then used as building blocks for a network. This method has never been applied to a real-world dataset on this scale and millions of documents were analysed to complete the study.

By using media data and having relationships in a graph, the researchers uncovered a unique mixture of endorsements and disapproval to represent the Republican and Democratic camps.

The research team found that the range of political positions can be reliably recovered from the set of claims attributed to each actor by the media reporting. The split of the network into the two main camps provides strong evidence that the main political relations can be found by using this approach.

Explore further: Online tool can detect patterns in US election news coverage

More information: 'Automated analysis of the US presidential elections using big data and network analysis' by Sudhahar S, Veltri GA and Cristianini N in Big Data and Society.

Further information about the study, together with together with high-res images, is available at

Related Stories

US Republicans reboot in bid to close 'digital gap'

March 18, 2013

As part of an effort to rebound from its 2012 US election defeat, the Republican Party is rebooting its digital strategy to make better use of data, social media and other technology platforms.

Cable TV top source for US political news: study

February 8, 2012

Cable television is the leading source of US political news for Americans, according to a study released Tuesday, but fewer people are closely following the presidential campaign than four years ago.

Study examines political contributions made by physicians

June 2, 2014

The percentage of physicians making campaign contributions in federal elections increased to 9.4 percent in 2012 from 2.6 percent in 1991, and during that time physician contributors shifted away from Republicans toward Democrats, ...

Recommended for you

Can China keep it's climate promises?

March 26, 2019

China can easily meet its Paris climate pledge to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but sourcing 20 percent of its energy needs from renewables and nuclear power by that date may be considerably harder, researchers ...

What happened before the Big Bang?

March 26, 2019

A team of scientists has proposed a powerful new test for inflation, the theory that the universe dramatically expanded in size in a fleeting fraction of a second right after the Big Bang. Their goal is to give insight into ...

Cellular microRNA detection with miRacles

March 26, 2019

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short noncoding regulatory RNAs that can repress gene expression post-transcriptionally and are therefore increasingly used as biomarkers of disease. Detecting miRNAs can be arduous and expensive as ...

In the Tree of Life, youth has its advantages

March 26, 2019

It's a question that has captivated naturalists for centuries: Why have some groups of organisms enjoyed incredibly diversity—like fish, birds, insects—while others have contained only a few species—like humans.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.