What can Twitter tell us about the incredibly close race for the 4th district?

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Midterms have come and gone, but a few votes are still being counted. The race for Utah’s fourth congressional district is still undecided. It’s still possible for either candidate — Republican incumbent Mia Love or Democratic challenger Ben McAdams — to win. The New York Times reports that as of 12:45 PM ET, with 76% of precincts reporting, 51.3% of votes have been cast for McAdams and 48.7% for Love.

Can Twitter give us a sense of what’s going on in this incredibly close race?

Methodology

Using Crimson Hexagon, a social media listening platform, we zeroed in on what people were saying over the last two months about the race on Twitter. To do this, we followed three basic steps:

First, we coded one set of instructions for Crimson Hexagon to pull tweets that can give us insight into the scope of the race as a whole. Second, we coded two other sets of instructions — one for each candidate. These enable us to compare what is being said about them.

Third, we analyzed the posts Crimson Hexagon retrieved with our instructions. We used both quantitative data analysis tools built in to Crimson Hexagon and manual, qualitative analysis to build a holistic picture of what Twitter looked like in the two months prior to election day.

Insights

In the days before election day, Love and McAdams were neck and neck in the polls, and the competition on social media was also fierce. More people posted about this race in the last two months than the other three districts put together. Of those posts, strong expressions of support could be seen for either candidate.

“Mia’s Working Relationship with @POTUS Benefits Utahns,” one user tweeted.

“Ben McAdams is a big ol dork, but he’s really nice, and a genuinely good politician!” said another.

The following statistics measure posts from September 5–November 9.

Post Volume: The amount of individual Twitter posts of the mentioned candidate.

  • 8,824 posts mentioned Mia Love
  • 8,758 posts mentioned Ben McAdams

Emotion Analysis: Emotion Analysis categorizes posts based on the occurrence of terms generally falling into one of the following six categories; Anger, Fear, Disgust, Joy, Surprise, and Sadness.

64% of posts which mention Mia Love had an emotional tone. Of that percentage, the top three emotions expressed were sadness (35%), joy (34%), and disgust (24%).
Of the posts about Ben McAdams, 48% exhibited an emotional tone. Of that 48%, the top three emotions expressed were joy (41%), sadness (27%), and disgust (16%).

Common Topics Discussed: These topics were measured through coding individual posts finding potential themes as a whole.

Users who posted about Mia Love touched on many topics, including general expressions of support or dissatisfaction. On September 10, we found a spike in discussion of an accusation that Love raised funds for a primary challenge that never occurred.

Posters who expressed support for Ben McAdams seemed to be enthusiastic about the idea of defeating his incumbent opponent. Discussion also centered on confusion over the still-undetermined election results.

Takeaways

Social media buzz is not a proxy for proper polling and shouldn’t be used to predict election outcomes alone. However, it is a useful and unique tool for gauging sentiment and candidate appeal with specific publics. It’s also a great tool for evaluating debate performance since voters tend to tweet about these and similar events.

Tweets about Ben McAdams seemed slightly more optimistic than tweets about Mia Love. This was reflected by emotions reflected in the posts. Users who tweeted about Mia Love adopt joyful tones and sad tones with nearly equal frequency. In contrast, tweets which mention Ben McAdams are joyful 14 percentage points more often than they are sad. This suggests that the tone of the race slightly favors McAdams. However, post volume tends to favor Love by a very slim margin: simply more people are talking about her.

So, what will happen? We were supposed to find out on Tuesday, but more ballots keep coming in. Regardless, it’s a close race, and our research backs that up.

One thing seems clear: if you’re thinking of running for office, you need to be on social media. Make a Twitter. Engage with your audience. Candidates who refrain from tweeting cede social media buzz to their opponents. And who knows? Maybe voters will listen. Y Digital certainly is.

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