Published in Macalester Today
From Macalester Today, Spring 2012
What are political candidates really saying? Students in political science professor Adrienne Christiansen’s CyberPolitics class last fall found a way to examine and quantify candidates’ messages by analyzing their tweets on the social media networking service Twitter.
Unlike a traditional class, which might culminate with each student producing a paper or project, students in this course worked together on a single classwide research project designed to examine which political functions are served by a candidate’s use of tweets. Each of four teams selected a 2012 candidate for the U.S. presidency and collected the comments he published via Twitter. They studied Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Barack Obama, and Rick Perry.
Using the free software at wordle.net, each team created a “word cloud” based on the content of a candidate’s tweets. Word clouds translate word count into a visual representation of the data, giving greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. So if jobs appears much more frequently than, say, reforms, the word jobs will appear much larger in the word cloud graphic.
The candidates’ word clouds illustrated key messages and helped students analyze a candidate’s objectives in using Twitter to proclaim his policy positions or drive followers to his website. Finally, students published their conclusions online.
Want to know more? Christiansen will discuss this research at the July 22–25 Macalester Alumni College seminar Will Democracy Survive?