Do we need polls? Why twitter will not replace opinion surveys, but can complement them

Sajuria, Javier and Fábrega, Jorge; Snee, Helene and Hine, Christine and Morey, Yvette and Roberts, Steven and Watson, Hayley, eds. (2015) Do we need polls? Why twitter will not replace opinion surveys, but can complement them. In: Digital Methods for Social Science. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., pp. 87-104. ISBN 9781137453655

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Can we observe public attitudes using social media data? Or more concretely, can we disregard polls as the preferred method for observing public opinion? Our comparison between public opinion survey data and Twitter data from the 2013 Chilean presidential election shows a nuanced picture. We use social network analysis to estimate political positions of Twitter users and estimate their sentiment towards public issues based on their public tweets. We work with the public opinion data from the Chilean CEP survey to compare the Twitter data to the polls. Our focus is on the relationship between political position — proxied by their support for a candidate — and their views about given relevant political topics. The results show that, in most cases, support for certain policies has a correlate in the online world, with a positive tone of tweets. However, there are some interesting differences among supporters of various candidates. Those who support the leading candidate tend to tweet with a more positive tone, regardless of the issue. On the other hand, supporters of other candidates are less likely to tweet with a positive tone, even when it is about a topic they support. These findings show that Twitter data can provide interesting insight about how people frame political discussions, depending on the electoral viability of the candidate they support.