October 05, 2012

Visualizing Twitter commentary on the 2012 Presidential Debates

Here at the Floatingsheep virtual compound (located somewhere in wilds of information space between and we are avid followers of the changing trends with culture and politics, particularly as they manifest in the online world.  So it should come as no surprise that we have been tracking the U.S. presidential election over the past months. We were particularly interested by the extent to which Twitter featured in media coverage of the first presidential debate and wanted to take a look at the geography of debate tweets. Moreover, given our general solidarity with all farm yard animals we also wanted make sure we had Big Bird's back [1].

So we fired up the interface to the DOLLY project, which just archived its billionth geocoded tweet last week, to take a look.  By the way, if you are interested in working on maps like this yourself, be sure to check out the Sheepallange.

But before getting to our work let's take a look some other non-geographic work.  The debate was clear a trending topic on Wednesday night with over 10 million tweets sent and this temporal dimension is well illustrated by the graph below and the analysis of Twitter itself. While there are issues with the representativeness of the Twitter universe, it is useful metric to watch.

As geographers, however, we wanted to examine the spatial dimension of these tweets, particularly with respect to the handful of swing states (according to CNN) that have are key in the upcoming election. So we commissioned, at great expense, a series of maps created by Monica's cartography students at Humboldt State University [2]. The goal was to demonstrate the geographic expressions of online political engagement as evidenced by debate-related tweets.

 Catherine Hoyle, a Humboldt State Oceanography major, looked at where people geotagged tweets for Obama or for Romney.

Stephen Mangum, a Humboldt State Geography major, examined the tweets declaring either "Obama won" or "Romney won" in relation to the political leaning of the state.

While the maps above are certainly illuminating, truth be told they skirt the key issue of the candidates' stances on the future of Serinus Canaria Sesamestreetous, with an apparent glandular disorder resulting in extreme size, i.e., the attack on Big Bird by Mitt Romney. We stand in solidarity with our feathered friend, who is a long time advocate of the sheep community. As the video clip below demonstrates, Big Bird has regularly and eloquently spoke out for sheep. "Are you worried about sheep like I am? Well I've been thinking about it a lot, so I wrote a poem, and I'll read it to you so you'll see what the problem is here."

Big Sheep by Big Bird
The Sheep in smaller than a bull
Her nose is black, her coat is wool
We cut her wool off and upset her
To make into a woolen sweater
When winter comes and snowflakes float
She could be could without her coat
So let's be fair when snow is deep
Let's put the sweater on the sheep

Montse Compa, a Humboldt State Environmental Science major, was also worried about Big Bird's employment prospects if Romney wins the election (as Twitter predicted in Stephen's map).  On this map the larger the size of the Big Bird the more Tweets during the debate about Big Bird.

But sometimes a map is not enough, so like our hero Big Bird we turn to poetry as well...

Big Bird by the Big Sheep (aka Matt)
The Bird is bigger than a sheep
Her feathers are yellow, she lives on the street
We threaten her funding and upset her
And worse, make her a debtor.
When winter comes and snowflakes float
She could be insurance-less, with a sore throat
So let's be fair when snow is deep
Let Big Bird, her money keep 

[1] OK, technically a canary is not a farmyard animal, but where else are you going to be able to put Big Bird?
[2] Actually there was no expense in this. It just sounds better that way.

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