Twitter Is A Bad Predictor Of Public Opinion [Pew Study]

Twitter Polling And Demographics

When it comes to determining public opinion Twitter is not the miracle analysis tool some users would like to believe. A new study by the Pew Research Center has found that polling on Twitter is not as effective as traditional polling results.

Researchers found that Twitter sentiment surrounding eight of last years most political events showed significant divergent results.

Pew found that Barack Obama’s reelection, the first presidential debate and a same-sex marriage ban in California received higher “pro-Democratic or liberal” results than the actual public opinion displayed. The study also found that other events such as Obama’s second inaugural speech, John Kerry’s nomination as Secretary of State and Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address received higher conservative responses on Twitter.

The study could point to a form of micro-blogging discourse. Essentially people tend to complain on Twitter more than they care to share positive thoughts about major events. Twitter in essence works better as an off the cuff platform for discourse, whereas public opinion polls focus in on a direct set of questions.

The Pew study says Twitter results are different because demographics, sampling and groups.

In terms of demographics only 13% of adults user Twitter and only 3% have admitted to regularly or sometimes tweeting new articles. Given the web platforms demographic it is extremely hard to form a representative sample of voters. According to the Pew study:

“Twitter users are considerably younger than the general public and more likely to be Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party.”

The Twitter demographic also includes many users who are not of legal voting age and many who are not legal citizens in the United States.

The study also found that many Twitter users focus in on one or two political movements and therefore their opinions outside of those events are often skewed or uneducated. The study reads:

“Those who tweeted about the California same-sex marriage ruling were likely not the same group as those who tweeted about Obama’s inaugural or Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan.”

The study continues:

“In the two days following Obama’s re-election on Nov. 6, there were nearly 14 million Tweets from people expressing their reaction. And more than five million expressed their reactions to the first presidential debate. But other events, particularly the federal court ruling on same sex marriage in California last February and Obama’s nomination of John Kerry in December, drew a much lower volume of tweets.”

While Twitter may not offer the same results as official public polls from Gallup, the Pew Research Group and others, it is still a valuable tool that has helped gauge a segment of the social conversation as it occurs, something public polling has for the most part failed to accomplish in real-time.

The study should be taken with a grain of salt, after all the Pew Research Center relies on public opinion polling for a large percentage of its analysis.

James Kosur

James Kosur has worked in the new media space for the last 10 years, helping many publications build their audiences to millions of monthly readers. He currently serves as the Director of Business Development at and the CEO of Aven Enterprises LLC.


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