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By: Qianlan Zeng, MS Richard Hartman, PhD Andrew Einhorn, MS
OhMyGov Inc. Research December 2011 Abstract Social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way we communicate and share information. They have become part of the political discourse, particularly during the 2012 Republican presidential primary campaigns. Of particular interest to the field of study around social media is the possibility of using social media data to measure public opinion. This study analyzes whether Facebook and Twitter fan numbers and profile growth rates correlate with political polling data. We analyzed social media fans and growth on the two dominant social-networking platforms (Facebook and Twitter) of the leading Republican presidential candidates over a sixmonth period and correlated those results with polling data. Results from the study indicate a significant correlation between total social media fans and how a candidate was tracking in polls. No correlation was found between social media growth rates and candidate polling data. The impacts may signify another way to gauge, predict, and influence election outcomes.
During the 2010 election season, 22% of Internet users were engaged with the electoral campaigns through online social networks.1 This percentage has likely increased significantly, and thus the candidates, their campaigns, and the press are trying to take advantage of these new platforms. For over 80 years, professional pollsters have used techniques to predict election outcomes. As social media platforms continue their move from fringe to mainstream, it is conceivable that social media use and reactions could be used to augment or replace traditional polling. By understanding social media, one may be able to track a candidate’s popularity as well as that of their competition and contribute to a political campaign’s success in the new media age. Various studies have shown that social media could be an indicator of election outcomes.2 3 This study attempts to increase the body of research in examining the relationship between social media growth rates and polling. Over the 6 months prior to the 2012 Republican primaries, many voters have been seeing campaign messages, debates, and political commentary -- not only through traditional media, but also on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Voters have been giving instant reactions to the candidates' appearance, words and policies on such platforms. But do candidates’ polling numbers correlate to their effectiveness on the two prominent social networks, Facebook and Twitter? We hypothesized that the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers, along with Facebook and Twitter growth rates, correlate with national polling numbers of the candidates’ likeability and likelihood of winning the 2012 GOP nomination.
This study looked at the total number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers of the following eight Republican candidates: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum from June 2011 to December 13, 2011, and the social media growth rates from July 2011 to December 13, 2011. Since most of polling surveys are conducted on a monthly basis, all study data were aggregated by month. The same algorithm by Real Clear Politics4 (RCP) was used to calculate average polling numbers. This algorithm takes the average of all polling numbers from the top national polls for the respective month. The averages for candidate Facebook fans and Twitter followers for each candidate each month were calculated on the last day of that month (except for December). Candidate data were pooled together to perform the analysis, including 55 records of RCP and 56 records of the number of Facebook Fans and Twitter followers for the eight Republican 1 Smith, A. 2011. Twitter and social networking in the 2010 midterm elections. Pew Research.
http://bit.ly/heGpQX 2 Carr, A. 2010. Facebook, twitter election results prove remarkably accurate. Fast Company. http://bit.ly/dW5gxo 3 Nelson, Hartman and Einhorn. Social Media in the 2010 Election. OhMyGov Inc. http://www.scribd.com/doc/38002542/Social-Media-in-the-2010-Election-OhMyGov-Inc-Research 4 http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/us/republican_presidential_nomination-1452.html
candidates from June 2011 to December 13, 2011. Growth rates are calculated from July to December 13, and contain 48 records. To determine the statistical significance, the software program “R” was used as the analysis tool to calculate the Pearson correlation coefficient, where Corr Coef is the correlation coefficient, and p-value represents the significance of the correlation (which is based on a two-tailed test). For this study, 0.05 was used as the threshold to determine significance. Additionally, a logarithmic transformation was conducted for each correlation analysis to eliminate the influence of extraordinary values. Variable plots were created to better illustrate the correlations or lack thereof, along with a linear regression line to demonstrate trends of the data movements.
Results: 1. The correlation analysis between total Facebook fans and polling numbers ((Corr Coef=0.47, p-value<0.001 (after log-transformation, Corr Coef=0.55, p-value<0.001)) indicate a significant linear correlation between the number of Facebook fans and polling numbers.
The correlation analysis between the growth rate on Facebook and polling numbers (Corr Coef=0.12, p-value=0.43>0.05 (after log-transformation, Corr Coef=0.02, pvalue=0.9>0.05)), indicate no significant linear correlation between Facebook fan growth rate and polling numbers.
The correlation analysis between total Twitter followers and polling numbers (Corr Coef=0.24, p-value=0.07>0.05), indicates no significant linear correlation between Twitter followers and polling numbers. However, when we look at the plots of Twitter followers and the RCP polling average, it’s clear that some extreme value could have influenced the outcome of the correlation coefficient. When applying a log transformation to the original Twitter follower numbers, which eliminates the effects of very large numbers, a significant correlation was found between total Twitter followers and RCP polling average (Corr Coef=0.45, p-value<0.001).
The analysis of Twitter growth rates and polling numbers (Corr Coef=-0.09, pvalue=0.55>0.05, (after log-transformation, Corr Coef=-0.01, p-value=0.9>0.05)), indicate
there is no significant linear correlation between Twitter follower growth rates and polling numbers.
Discussion Media and Internet enthusiasts often make broad statements that internet is changing the face of American Politics,5 or ask questions like: “Did Facebook popularity help in predicting Election Night winners?6” Such statements typically incur wide criticism from pollsters and political advertisers in disbelief that social media had anything to do with election outcomes. However, the results of this study suggest otherwise. Candidates with more Facebook fans tend to perform better in the polls. Similarly, when the data is normalized, there exists a correlation between candidates with more Twitter followers and the candidate’s popularity in the polls. Logically, this relationship makes sense, as one would expect more popular candidates to have a larger social media presence – a representation of their popularity. Interestingly, no correlation was found between growth rates on social media and polling number growth rates. It is possible that the sample size was simply too small and did not contain enough power to uncover this relationship. It is also possible that prevailing views of candidates did not change enough over the study period to create significance. While informative, the study was limited to a very small candidate pool and focused only on social networking fans/followers and their social media growth rates. The sample size was purposely small, serving as a test bed to whether or not such an analysis – which would be run for
Gainus and Wager. Rebooting American Politics: The Internet Revolution. Rowman and Littlefield,
Pulbishers. 2011. p. 1. 6 Facebook. Snapshot: The Day after the Election. U.S. Politics on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/notes/us-politics-on-facebook/snapshot-the-day-after-electionday/448930025881. Nov 3, 2010.
campaign managers during election season – could uncover statistically significant results, which it did. As such, despite its limitations, the study provides additional evidence for using social media as a predictive tool. And while social media data analysis techniques may not be mature enough to predict election outcomes or replace political polling, it can provide near real-time insight to candidates, campaigns and the media to augment polling in identifying election trends. Conclusion With the Republican primaries around the corner and the growth of social media platforms expanding to broader demographics, the use of social media data in research will continue to grow in importance and sophistication. This study provides one of the first snapshots of how social media data can be used as a real- to near real-time indicator for political popularity. It also demonstrates there is a strong correlation between candidates’ overall polling numbers and the number of Facebook fans they are able to accumulate leading up to the election. As the science of social media prediction matures, issues like social media manipulation by spammers and propagandists must be addressed along with reproducibility, reliability, consistency and other key study variables. Additionally, further research is needed regarding the flaws of simple analysis methods when applied to political conversation. In this sense, it would be very interesting to understand deeper the dynamics and drivers of political conversation and growth in social media. Other analyses could examine the interaction on social networks to explore how events and endorsements from friends that come by way of “likes” have on future elections. Whatever the study examines, what’s clear is there is a way social media data can have a predictive effect on elections. What isn’t clear is whether social media is a driver of popularity and election outcomes or merely a reflection of previously existing viewpoints. More research is needed to make such a determination.
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