Study: How Twitter Sentiment Compares to Public Opinion

We should be careful about drawing conclusions about overall public opinion based on tweets, according to a recent Pew study. Sometimes reactions on Twitter are more politically liberal, while at other times, they are more conservative. Often, they are more negative.

For example, when a California law last year banning same-sex marriage was found to be unconstitutional, Twitter conversations were much more positive (46%) than negative (8%). These results contrast sharply with a general opinion poll showing 33% to be positive and 44 to be negative.

Reactions to the presidential election also ran more positively on Twitter, with most users supporting President Obama.  However, reactions to the president's State of the Union address were far more negative on Twitter than in the general population. Pew Twitter study

One explanation of these differences and inconsistencies is the small percentage of people who get news from and participate on Twitter. Only 13% of adults read Tweets, and only 3% regularly or sometimes tweet or retweet news. Users are not a representative sample of the U.S. population; for example, Twitter users include those under 18 and people outside the United States, while opinion surveys exclude both groups.

Discussion Starters:

  • What else could account for more negativity on Twitter? 
  • Research Twitter demographics. What, if any, other conclusions can you draw about its users?