Twitter has launched the Twitter Political Index, also called “Twindex,” which serves up what its users feel about the candidates in the upcoming United States Presidential election.
The index was created together with Topsy, as well as pollsters the Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research.
It measures people’s daily tweets that mention President Barack Obama and presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“This will be more of a real-time measure and may accurately showcase whether a candidate is waning or surging much more quickly than more traditional firms,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.
Cutting Through the Political Dirt and Grime
Every day, Topsy evaluates the sentiments expressed by tweeters for all terms mentioned on the microblogging site, then compares how positively the candidates are discussed to calculate their sentiment score.
So, if a candidate gets a score of 73, this means that Tweets mentioning that candidate are, on average, more positive than 73 percent of all tweets.
When checked at press time, Twindex indicated that Barack Obama had a score of 44, up 10 since Wednesday, while Mitt Romney had a score of 26, up 1 since Wednesday.
The Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research helped validate and tune the algorithms for Twindex, Topsy said. The polling companies did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
Topsy indexes, measures and live-ranks links, comments, pictures, videos and Web pages from more than 400 million posts daily.
Keeping Things Really Real
The trend in Twindex scores for President Obama over the last two years often parallels his approval ratings from the Gallup polling company, according to Twitter.
However, there are times when they diverge from Gallup’s results, such as after the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed. At that time, Obama’s Twindex daily scores fell off more rapidly than his poll numbers because Twitter subscribers turned back to focusing more on economic issues.
Those differences between unprompted, natural conversations and responses to specific survey questions help Twindex capture the nuances of public opinion, Twitter said.
Twitter did not respond to our request for further details.
Who Tweets, Anyhow?
However, there’s a possibility that the statistics from Twindex might not reflect reality as closely as claimed. Statistically, some groups tend to tweet more than others.
The Pew Research Center has found that only 15 percent of adults online use Twitter. On a typical day, that figure is only 8 percent. That could be due to the increased use of smartphones, as smartphone owners are particularly likely to use Twitter.
Twitter use within the overall population remained steady, but it skyrocketed among people aged 18 to 24. Overall, nearly 30 percent of young adults use Twitter, up from 18 percent the previous year. One in five people aged 18 to 24 uses Twitter on a typical day.
Further, 11 percent of adults aged 25 to 34 use Twitter on a typical day.
African-Americans are also heavy Twitter users, with 28 percent of them using Twitter overall and 13 percent doing so on a typical day.
Urban and suburban residents are also significantly more likely to use Twitter than those in rural areas, Pew found.
What You See and What You Get
“I think you could argue that Twitter would be biased heavily towards the Democratic party because of the demographics of its user base,” Enderle suggested. “So it might be good for measuring trends, but might not be able to accurate forecast results where Republican views are dominant.”
“The 2012 election will offer multiple opportunities to parse what, if any, unique insight Twitter can provide compared to traditional polling sources,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld. “Closely tracking narrowly focused groups of voters is of limited value.”
Where Twitter users are located “could be more important than many people think since, over the past three generations, the U.S. populace has shifted more and more towards urban locales,” King continued.
“Twindex could offer proof that politicians’ obsession with sparsely populated heartland communities is more romantic than practical,” King surmised.