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Twitter’s 2012 Election Index Measures Candid Tweets About the Candidates

If you thought the 2008 election was defined by social media, wait until you see this one. Twitter launched the Twitter Political Index on Tuesday, a daily measurement of Twitter-wide sentiments about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It brings the scale of 400 million daily messages to bear. By watching unprompted conversations instead of asking specific survey questions, Twitter’s measurements might be more honest.

The (cringe) Twindex establishes a baseline by looking at the entire firehose of tweets – 4,600 tweets per second – from around the world and analyzing the sentiments. Then it separates out the tweets about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and runs a sentiment analysis on those.

Twitter compares tweets about the candidates to the overall sentiment and scores them out of 100. A 50 would be a perfectly neutral sentiment, so anything above 50 is good and below 50 is bad.

To crunch the numbers, Twitter has partnered with the data analysis team at Topsy as well as two polling firms, The Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research.

The Twindex is not scientific polling, but the scale is so large that the analysis produces strong signals and clear trends. There’s a key difference between the two methods of determining the feelings of the electorate: Polling asks specific questions about candidates and issues, but tweets are candid, public, unprompted and conversational.

This makes for an interesting comparison between the Twindex and traditional polling. When compared to Topsy’s analytics of the past two years of data, the Twindex average tracks pretty closely to Gallup poll numbers much of the time. Though the sentiment is almost always lower overall, the rising and falling trends sync up.

But there are some instances where Twitter sentiment analysis reveals trends more quickly than polling does. In the summer of 2011, after Osama Bin laden was killed, Obama’s Twitter approval rating dropped off more quickly than his poll numbers, as the conversation returned to ongoing issues, while poll numbers floated down more slowly.

Twitter says that more tweets are sent every two days than had ever been sent prior to Election Day 2008. The entire volume of tweets on the day Obama was elected represents only six minutes of tweets in 2012. The company has reached the scale where its users’ messages provide meaningful insights across disciplines.

But whether or not it’s inherently meaningful, Twitter sentiment analysis is going to matter in this election. Twitter is a critical PR game in which the campaigns can now accurately keep score.

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