Foreign policy, guns, celebrities, and reality TV: an analysis of Republican Twitter follower interests

February 25, 2016 Michael Heilman

This post was co-authored with Keith Ingersoll and Jesse Stinebring, along with support from Macromeasures.

We’re always curious about how new platforms change people’s political expression, and, of course, whether we can develop new instruments to measure these opinions. On social media platforms, users aren’t anchored to a distinct, real identity we can match back to a voter file, which poses a real challenge for answering typical opinion research questions “who are the people that make up a candidate’s supporter base?”

Instead, on platforms like Twitter, people distinguish themselves through who they connect with and what they talk about, not through their basic demographics. So as we shift our attention to non-traditional platforms for opinion research, we’ve realized that we also need to shift how we ask these basic opinion research questions.

Today, we’re releasing our analysis of the GOP primary raging online (and offline) based on the seven candidates who were on stage for the main Republican debate on January 14, 2016 (while Christie and Bush recently dropped out, we still included them here for comparison). To complete our analysis, we asked the question “what are the interests that differentiate each candidate’s followers?” And we were fascinated by what the data uncovered:

Bush Carson Christie Cruz Kasich Rubio Trump
1 Jeb Bush Ben Carson New Jersey Ted Cruz John Kasich Marco Rubio Donald Trump
a news publisher Mike Huckabee a news TV channel Libertarian American politics Ohio educational institution U.S. Republican Party a reality TV show
U.S. Democratic Party Libertarian American politics a news TV channel a news publisher Ohio football team Carly Fiorina a news TV channel
U.S. foreign policy Christian music Philadelphia Pro-life activism U.S. Democratic Party a news TV channel a TV network
5 International relations and foreign policy Rand Paul a news publisher a conservative news network an athletic conference Libertarian American politics a reality TV show
Progressive American politics a conservative news network U.S. Democratic Party Abortion rights a news publisher U.S. Democratic Party a reality TV show
a radio company Carly Fiorina Carly Fiorina Glenn Beck Libertarian American politics U.S. foreign policy a combat sports organization
a news publisher a news TV channel Journalism Guns Abortion rights International relations and foreign policy Fashion models
a news TV channel Guns Public relations a news TV channel Pro-life activism U.S. military Women’s intimates
10 Talk radio Dana Perino Progressive American politics Political issues Political issues Military a video game publisher
a news publisher Christianity Organised labour U.S. Republican Party Civil rights Conservative American politics a fashion retailer
Mike Huckabee Greta Van Susteren Journalist Hunting and shooting a news TV channel Mike Huckabee a reality TV show
a news publisher U.S. military a TV network a conservative news publisher Bernie Sanders Abortion rights a TV and media company
U.S. military Military a social news and entertainment company Military Law a news publisher a fashion models subcategory
15 Military Faith and religion an entertainment TV channel U.S. military Washington, DC Pro-life activism Financial markets and news
Marco Rubio Classic literature a TV drama Conservative American politics Progressive American politics a news publisher an entertainment TV channel
Bernie Sanders U.S. Republican Party Jeb Bush U.S. Democratic Party U.S. foreign policy Paul Ryan Ann Coulter
Business news Conservative American politics Marco Rubio Rand Paul International relations and foreign policy John Boehner a reality TV show
a news publisher Ted Cruz Racial issues Mike Huckabee Talk radio Political issues Military
20 a TV drama C. S. Lewis an entertainment TV channel a gun rights advocacy group Lawyer a news TV channel Celebrity and entertainment news
British politics a reality TV show Interior design Megyn Kelly a news publisher a news publisher U.S. military
United Nations Pro-life activism Horses Donald Trump a radio company Financial markets and news a motorsports organization
Washington, DC Hunting and shooting Political dramas Civil rights Journalist Business news a news TV channel
a news TV channel a TV channel Comedy British politics Journalism Progressive American politics Combat sports
25 Space and astronomy Abortion rights Equestrian sports Ann Coulter a news TV channel History Aviation
Financial markets and news a news publisher a talk show Hillary Clinton Organised labour Civil rights Personal finance
a news-focused TV network a sports organization a news-focused TV network Small and medium business Society Hillary Clinton First-person shooters
a TV drama Country culture a news website Greta Van Susteren a news-focused TV network Florida educational institution Las Vegas
a news organzation Donald Trump Mike Huckabee a news publisher Causes and activism Hunting and shooting Guns
30 Hillary Clinton a football organization a sports TV channel a news publisher a news publisher Talk radio Luxury hotels
conservative
entertainment
foreign policy
guns
progressive
regional
religion
other

This table shows the top distinctive interests for each candidate’s followers.

The methodology for ranking interests is described below. The colors indicate interest categories; click through to focus on each category; and hover over the cells to see the full descriptions of the interests.

Bush Carson Christie Cruz Kasich Rubio Trump
1              
            a reality TV show
             
            a TV network
5             a reality TV show
            a reality TV show
            a combat sports organization
             
             
10             a video game publisher
             
            a reality TV show
            a TV and media company
             
15     an entertainment TV channel        
    a TV drama       an entertainment TV channel
             
            a reality TV show
             
20 a TV drama   an entertainment TV channel       Celebrity and entertainment news
  a reality TV show          
            a motorsports organization
             
  a TV channel Comedy       Combat sports
25              
    a talk show        
            First-person shooters
a TV drama            
             
30              
entertainment
other

If you think a Trump rally is an unorthodox GOP primary event, just wait until you see his Twitter followers…

You’ll find that a user who follows Trump is more likely to be interested in things like reality TV, celebrities, and video games.

Bush Carson Christie Cruz Kasich Rubio Trump
1              
          U.S. Republican Party  
             
      Pro-life activism      
5       a conservative news network      
  a conservative news network   Abortion rights      
      Glenn Beck      
        Abortion rights    
        Pro-life activism    
10              
      U.S. Republican Party   Conservative American politics  
             
      a conservative news publisher   Abortion rights  
             
15           Pro-life activism  
      Conservative American politics      
  U.S. Republican Party         Ann Coulter
  Conservative American politics          
             
20              
             
  Pro-life activism          
             
             
25   Abortion rights   Ann Coulter      
             
             
             
             
30              
conservative
other

Carson and Cruz share the most with a traditional grassroots conservative cohort. (1 of 3)

Throughout the fall, our polling suggested that every vote that Ben Carson lost seemed to go directly to Ted Cruz. In this Twitter analysis, we found that both Carson and Cruz seem to occupy a similar place online: those with strong connections to conversations with grassroots conservative, pro-gun activists, and religious accounts. It’s possible Ted Cruz’s campaign is seeing the same thing

Bush Carson Christie Cruz Kasich Rubio Trump
1              
             
             
             
5              
             
             
      Guns      
  Guns          
10              
             
      Hunting and shooting      
             
             
15              
             
             
             
             
20       a gun rights advocacy group      
             
             
  Hunting and shooting          
             
25              
             
             
             
          Hunting and shooting Guns
30              
guns
other

Carson and Cruz share the most with a traditional grassroots conservative cohort. (2 of 3)

Throughout the fall, our polling suggested that every vote that Ben Carson lost seemed to go directly to Ted Cruz. In this Twitter analysis, we found that both Carson and Cruz seem to occupy a similar place online: those with strong connections to conversations with grassroots conservative, pro-gun activists, and religious accounts. It’s possible Ted Cruz’s campaign is seeing the same thing

Bush Carson Christie Cruz Kasich Rubio Trump
1              
             
             
  Christian music          
5              
             
&nbsnbsp;            
             
             
10              
  Christianity          
             
             
             
15   Faith and religion          
             
             
             
             
20   C. S. Lewis          
             
             
             
             
25              
             
             
             
             
30              
religion
other

Carson and Cruz share the most with a traditional grassroots conservative cohort. (3 of 3)

Throughout the fall, our polling suggested that every vote that Ben Carson lost seemed to go directly to Ted Cruz. In this Twitter analysis, we found that both Carson and Cruz seem to occupy a similar place online: those with strong connections to conversations with grassroots conservative, pro-gun activists, and religious accounts. It’s possible Ted Cruz’s campaign is seeing the same thing

Bush Carson Christie Cruz Kasich Rubio Trump
1              
             
             
U.S. foreign policy            
5 International relations and foreign policy            
             
          U.S. foreign policy  
          International relations and foreign policy  
          U.S. military  
10           Military  
             
             
  U.S. military          
U.S. military Military   Military      
15 Military     U.S. military      
             
        U.S. foreign policy    
        International relations and foreign policy    
            Military
20              
            U.S. military
United Nations            
             
             
25              
             
             
             
             
30              
foreign policy
other

Bush and Rubio’s followers tend to have strong interests in foreign policy.

In addition to interests in mainstream news, etc. we saw their followers have an increased interest in the military and other foreign policy issues.

Bush Carson Christie Cruz Kasich Rubio Trump
1     New Jersey        
        Ohio educational institution    
        Ohio football team    
    Philadelphia        
5         an athletic conference    
             
             
             
             
10              
             
             
             
             
15              
             
             
             
             
20              
             
             
             
             
25              
             
  a sports organization          
          Florida educational institution  
             
30   a football organization          
regional
other

Kasich and Christie’s followers are more likely to have regional interests in Ohio and NJ, respectively.

After Kasich’s strong performance in NH–and Christie’s exit from the race–it will be interesting to how things pan out for the Ohio Governor.


Methodology

This work is not to be confused with our Social Listening capabilities we released last week, which focused on the content of tweets rather than followers’ interests.

We aimed to identify the interests that are most strongly associated with followers of a particular candidate relative to followers of any of the candidates. It is important to note that these are not necessarily the most frequent interests of the followers of a candidate. The most frequent interests for a candidate tend to be generic interests like television and politics. Our aim was to highlight differences between followers’ interests, and so the interests we identify can even be ones that a fairly small fraction of a candidate’s followers have, if those are interests that few of the other candidates’ followers have (e.g., progressive politics for some of the more centrist candidates, or specific TV shows). Also note that these are interests associated with one candidate’s followers relative to the other Republican candidates’ followers — not relative to the entire population of Twitter users, etc. And so, for example, conservative politics is less likely to show up as a top interest.

To find the interests of Twitter followers, we used the awesome Macromeasures PeopleData API. Using a custom machine learning framework, Macromeasures provides a hierarchical list of interests for individual Twitter accounts. Each interest includes a score indicating the strength of the interest based on the machine learning model. For this analysis, we included only interests with a score of 4 or above, corresponding to Macromeasures’ “High” level of interest. This left us with an average of about 19 identified interests per follower. Note that we included interests from all levels of the hierarchy, and so the results include some similar interests at different levels of generalization (e.g., political issues, abortion rights, pro-life activism, pro-choice activism) when candidates’ followers are strongly associated with both the general and specific variants.

We took the following steps to create the lists of interests that are strongly associated with the followers of each candidate.

  1. We downloaded the full lists of followers (i.e., Twitter user IDs) for each of the candidates as of mid-January 2016.
  2. For each candidate, we randomly sampled 3,000 followers and then combined the sets. Note that we introduced some bias into our analyses by oversampling followers for candidates with fewer followers, which was done mainly for practical reasons.
  3. For the combined set of followers, we used the Macromeasures API to acquire per-user interest information.
  4. We filtered out users who did not have a United States country code (“US”) according to Macromeasures, which cut down our final sample from about 21,000 unique users to about 13,000.
  5. We made the user-by-interest matrix to be binary by setting a threshold on Macromeasures’s confidence scores (4, as mentioned above). This simplified the analysis and seemed to be a reasonable threshold from examining a few examples. We also filtered out interests that fewer than 30 users in our sample had.
  6. For each candidate, we found the most strongly associated follower interests by the ranking method described below.

The metric by which we rank follower interests is based on the Binomial distribution, which models the number of successes for a given number of trials (e.g., the number of times one will see heads if one tosses a coin a certain number of times). For the number of trials, we compute the number of users who have a particular interest in our sample. For the number of successes, we compute the number of these users who also follow the given candidate. We could then easily estimate the conditional probability of a user following the candidate given that they have the interest and follow one of the candidates (subject to the bias due to oversampling as described above). However, since this would tend to rank rare interests more highly, we compute the lower bound for a 95% confidence interval for the Binomial distribution’s probability of success parameter, using Wilson’s method as implemented in statsmodels. This helps discount rare interests, giving us a conservative estimate of how strongly associated the particular candidate is with the particular interest. We can then rank all interests by this value to find a list of most strongly associated interests.

This methodology was inspired by a blog post on ranking based on ratings data.

For ease of visualization, we categorized interests ourselves and assigned colors to each. This was subjective, and in some cases, the assignment to categories is unclear (e.g., we decided not to label Washington D.C. and Las Vegas as regional interests since those locations seem much more likely to be of interest to a broader population than Ohio or New Jersey). We also replaced specific brands with generic labels (e.g., “a news publisher”).

The post Foreign policy, guns, celebrities, and reality TV: an analysis of Republican Twitter follower interests appeared first on Civis Analytics.

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