A new study from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism has found that Twitter seems to have a lot to say - mostly negative - about Republican presidential primary candidates and President Obama.
The study compares the tone of the discussion on presidential candidates across Twitter, blogs, and mainstream news outlets. Pew's data shows that Twitter has been overwhelmingly negative in tone towards Republican candidate Rick Perry and President Obama while only going slightly less harsh on Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (I guess not all of those Twitter followers for Gingrich are there to offer support). Compared to blogs and mainstream news, Twitter was a lot less neutral in how tweets discussed the candidates.
This probably isn't a complete surprise if you're a follower of several politically-inclined commenters, especially if you've followed trends like #tweetthepress, the trend that typically included ridiculing comments from people while watching the Republican presidential debates. From the study's analysis:
One distinguishing factor about the campaign discourse on Twitter is that it is more intensely opinionated, and less neutral, than in both blogs and news. Tweets contain a smaller percentage of statements about candidates that are simply factual in nature without reflecting positively or negatively on a candidate.
In general, that means the discourse on Twitter about the candidates has also been more negative.
The political discussion on Twitter has also fluctuated with events more than it has in the blogosphere, where the authors seem to have made up their minds and where the tone about candidates shifts relatively little. On Twitter, the conversation about a candidate sometimes changed markedly from week to week, shifting from positive to negative and vice versa.
Finally the new study found that the candidate conversation on Twitter is tremendously active-indeed the number of statements about candidates on Twitter vastly outnumber those offered in blogs by a factor of more than 9 to 1.
One telling detail about the Twitterscape's discussion on the candidates is that, were everybody's votes to be cast exclusively through Twitter, we'd all have to get used to saying President Paul after next November:
And in that campaign discussion on Twitter, one candidate has fared better than anyone else. Congressman Ron Paul has enjoyed the most favorable tone on Twitter of all candidates examined. From May through November, fully 55% of the assertions about the Texas Republican on Twitter have been positive-the highest of any candidate-while 15% have been negative-the lowest percentage of any candidate. That is a differential for Paul of 40 points on the positive side.
Paul is also the most favorably discussed candidate in blogs. While he trails significantly in the polls, and has received less coverage than every Republican candidate except Rick Santorum from news outlets, Paul seems to have struck a chord with some cohort in social media.
Paul's expanse of neutrality in the mainstream media may re-enforce the opinion of many of his supporters that, at least in this case, neutral simply indicates that he isn't getting any coverage. Additionally, the study does suggest that, yes, The Newtation is definitely happening right now given Gingrich saw his first week of more positive reviews on Twitter than negative in the week of October 24th.
While President Obama has been getting a rough go of it on Twitter with his "negative evaluations on Twitter outweighed his positive ones by 3-1," Pew points out that he hasn't received quite as harsh of an evaluation as his Republican cohorts have been dealt. Still, as with just about everything in this election cycle, these results can hardly be seen as predictive of which candidate the Republican voters will choose to run against Obama since just about every candidate this year has enjoyed the limelight of popularity and then disappeared into a dry well of near-obscurity. What you can count on, though, is that no matter what happens people will most likely continue to vent and complain via Twitter.
Unless it's about Ron Paul.