Sorry, gonzo pollsters: Twitter sucks at reflecting public opinion

Image Credit: Woodley Wonderworks

Either there are very different people on Twitter than the average Jane Q. Everywoman, or we tend to say very different things in public than we do in private.

Pew Research took a long look at what Twitterati say about major social and political issues and compared it to what opinion polls say. The differences are significant.

“At times the Twitter conversation is more liberal than survey responses, while at other times it is more conservative,” the research firm said when announcing the results. “Often it is the overall negativity that stands out.”

For example, Twitter users were 46 percent positive about California’s February 2012 same-sex marriage ruling, and only 8 percent negative. Public opinion polls, however, which are both anonymous and run with at least some attempt at scientific sampling, were only 33 percent positive — and 44 percent negative. And while Twitter Nation was 77 percent happy that President Barack Obama was re-elected, America was only 52 percent unhappy, and 45 percent unhappy.

In addition, during the October presidential debates 66 percent of Americans polled thought GOP candidate Mitt Romney had done a better job, but 59 percent of Twitter users thought Obama had won.

Why the difference?

Pew says that Twitter users are only a small slice of the overall population. Only about three percent of U.S. adults tweet or retweet news, and only 13 percent say they read Twitter updates. This small slice, according to Pew, skews young and skews Democrat … and skews the overall reaction to public events.

The upshot on Twitter polls?

“While this provides an interesting look into how communities of interest respond to different circumstances, it does not reliably correlate with the overall reaction of adults nationwide,” the Pew report says.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc


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