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Twitter a Decent Stand-In For Public Opinion Polls

By Arstechnica

May 11, 2010

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The next time you're low on cash and need to get a quick read on the public's feeling on politics or current events, consider sampling Twitter. According to a new report out of Carnegie Mellon University's computer science department, sentiments expressed via the millions of daily tweets strongly correlate with well-established public opinion polls, such as the Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS) and Gallup polls. The data analysis methodology still needs some tweaking, but the researchers still believe that Twitter posts could act as a "cheap, rapid means of gauging public opinion."

Assistant professor Noah Smith and his team collected 1 billion Twitter messages posted in 2008 and 2009 and analyzed them for topic (politics versus economy) and sentiment (positive or negative). They compared the consumer confidence tweets against ICS data from the same period as well as Gallup's Economic Confidence Index. Tweets about President Obama were compared against Gallup's daily tracking polls from that time period, and tweets about the election were compared against 46 polls created by Pollster.

The researchers found that there was a strong correlation between opinions expressed on Twitter and the traditional polls on topics like Obama's job performance, the job market, and the economy.

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