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Thursday
Nov152012

JHU alums headline event: Twitter and the Election

Last night's symposium was a panel featuring three Governmental Studies alums and one faculty member, discussing the role of Twitter in the presidential election.

The event began with MA in Government alum Sean Evins, who works at Twitter, providing a fascinating overview of spikes in tweets during certain moments in the presidential conventions, debates and on election night.  

He described Twitter's political index, which measures the relative popularity of each candidate in tweets.  Mr. Evins argued that twitter allows people to respond in real-time to political events, brings elected officials closer to the electorate, and so represents a "return to retail politics."

The other panelists were pollster Kristen Soltis (Vice President of The Winston Group), Sarah Lovenheim (Deputy Director of New Media for a congressional office), and Tom Hannon (Former Political Director at CNN).  

Jen Bachner, Coordinator of the MA in Government, moderated the event.  Dr. Bachner urged the panelists to discuss what the Twitter measures show-- they seem to show the intensity of attention on particular issues, but how much can they help us predict political opinion?

Mr. Hannon argued that while Twitter does seem to represent one way that politics has returned to the public square, it also seems to have a clustered usership that probably reflects a small part of the electorate.  Ms. Soltis echoed that as a pollster, Twitter gives her clues about the opinons of political activists more than it reveals trends in the general electorate.  

However, Ms. Lovenheim pointed out that one of the fastest growing groups of Twitter users are the elderly, showing that it is being adopted by unexpected sets of users.  And she also observed that one reason Governor Romney's "47%" comment was so damaging was because of the immediate Twitter commentary it generated.

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