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Can Twitter activity predict the winner of the presidential primaries?

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We often use TweetReach to track the success rates of TV shows and other major media events. We thought it would be interesting to analyze the tweets during last night’s Iowa Caucuses for the Republican nomination for President. As you know by now, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney beat Rick Santorum by just a few votes, and Ron Paul came in third. Could Twitter activity have been used to predict the winner?

Last Friday, we started tracking all tweets that mentioned any of a candidate’s Twitter accounts (personal and campaign), the major news networks’ coverage of the caucuses, and hashtags such as #iacaucus that were used by the major news media and others in their tweets.

Interestingly, the overall Twitter volume about the caucuses was pretty low. In fact, we often track more tweets in an hour about a single TV show than we have in five days about all nine candidates. Nevertheless, early on in the evening we predicted a win by Mitt Romney or Ron Paul based on early Twitter activity and retweets.

Overall tweet volume, the number of unique contributors (people who have tweeted about a topic), reach, exposure, and the retweet rate (average number of retweets per tweet) can be useful indicators for deciding what topics are most popular on Twitter. But can they help predict results in Iowa? Here’s how the data shook out for the six major candidates:

Based on overall reach, Romney, Santorum, and Paul came in as the top three candidates, mapping directly to the final caucus results. Based on this analysis, reach seems to be a good indicator of success. But, since much of this reach can be attributed to mentions by major news media accounts, it’s more likely that Twitter activity is merely descriptive of what is happening. Nevertheless, the percentage of total reach from the major candidates ended up being very close to the actual caucus results:

Also noteworthy, despite having over 2.5x the tweet activity of Romney or Santorum, Ron Paul only had the third highest reach. Paul also had over 1.5x the contributors and the highest retweet rate of the candidates, more likely an indication of his support among younger voters and their engagement on Twitter. But, a larger follower count and more activity on Twitter don’t necessarily help predict a winner.

Other fun facts, the most retweeted tweet in our analysis came from Ron Paul’s account, and mentions Jon Huntsman who didn’t actively campaign in Iowa:

And, the second-most retweeted tweet came from Robert Reich, professor at University of California at Berkeley and former United States Secretary of Labor:

Studies have shown that Americans use social media to follow politics. As the primary season unfolds, we’ll continue to analyze the Twitter activity of the major candidates and report back on what we find. In the mean time, we’d love your feedback!

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Written by Dean Cruse

January 4th, 2012 at 1:02 pm

3 Responses to 'Can Twitter activity predict the winner of the presidential primaries?'

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  1. Great work, really interesting stuff. I’m interested to see how it all unfolds over the coming months.

    Andrew Ishak

    20 Jan 12 at 8:02 am

  2. [...] in Twitter topics on the elections as potential predictors for primary outcomes.  Recently the TweetReach blog looked at the reach of candidate mentions during a debate and suggested that it could be a predictor of [...]

  3. [...] Republican presidential primaries and caucuses began back in January, we took a look at whether Twitter activity could be used as a predictor of the elections. We started tracking all tweets that mentioned any of a candidate’s Twitter accounts (personal [...]

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