Can Tweeting Replace Polling?
The idea that online panel surveys can replace telephone surveys ruffles feathers among my colleagues at the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). So what would they think of using Twitter posts as a substitute for phone surveys?
The idea seems crazy, but as reported in Science, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found that certain kinds of twitter data can give them a good read on public sentiment. The looked at things like positive or negative comments about President Obama and found results that aligned with traditional polls. Comments about finances and savings aligned with consumer confidence polls. What does the polling industry think? Here’s what one colleague says: “I believe that I am now going to run to a dark corner of the house and cower in fear of what may come.”
To be sure, we are not recommending that you rely on social media to accurately measure overall public opinion. No way. But in our view, these findings may lead to new insights about how people, individually and collectively, behave and think, and how research — both academic and practical — can harness these new forms of data to measure markets and the social world. The findings may also force us to re-think our theories of statistical inference that rely on random sampling. There is much research to be done before we will know, but possibilities for social media someday offering insights that are as statistically valid as our current methods is intriguing and nothing to cower about.
Thinking about measuring social media as part of your research plan? We would be happy to advise you. We can help you explore new options in research while ensuring that your research and findings remain rigorous and defensible.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.