Pew measured the tone of tweets during eight big news events, then compared that to national poll results. During the first presidential debate, for instance, 66 percent of people surveyed thought Mitt Romney did a better job, while 59 percent of tweets leaned to Obama. And during the State of the Union address last year, 27 percent of people polled by Pew reacted negatively, while Twitter disapproval was 40 percent.
Of the eight events that the Pew Research Center tracked since the beginning of last year, there were two – Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the 2010 Affordable Care Act – when the reaction on Twitter paralleled public opinion.
Last fall, negative comments about Romney and President Obama “exceeded positive comments by a wide margin,” but Romney “was consistently the target of more negative reactions than was Obama” during the campaign’s home stretch.
“Twitter users are not representative of the public,” the Pew report’s authors say by way of explaining disparities. “Often it is the overall negativity that stands out. Much of the difference may have to do with both the narrow sliver of the public represented on Twitter as well as who among that slice chose to take part in any one conversation.”
Most notably, Twitter users are considerably younger than the general public and more likely to be Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. In the 2012 news consumption survey, half (50%) of adults who said they posted news on Twitter were younger than 30, compared with 23% of all adults. And 57% of those who posted news on Twitter were either Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared with 46% of the general public.
And, of course, a relatively small percentage of Americans use Twitter.
Pew measures the tone of tweets using software that looks for “statistical patterns in words.” The tool matches human coding 90 percent of the time.
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