A new Pew survey set out to determine how closely Twitter users’ political opinions track those of the nation at large. The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that they often don’t: “The reaction on Twitter to major political events and policy decisions often differs a great deal from public opinion as measured by surveys,” the study says.
Twitter users tend to lean left and skew young compared to the general population. But in terms of the way they digest news, partisanship on both sides was glaringly evident. Twitter is usually more partisan often more negative than the polled public: Obama’s second inaugural speech, for example, was viewed favorably by 48% of polled adults and just 13% of (nominally more liberal than average) Twitter users.
“[T]he overall negativity on Twitter over the course of the campaign stood out,” says the study. “For both candidates, negative comments exceeded positive comments by a wide margin throughout the fall campaign season.”
Twitter’s design and structure favors punchy, emotionally charged posts. But the most plausible reason for these patterns, in my view, is that Twitter users, who often drove the meta-conversation during the election, are part of the media conversation, which is smaller and more charged than what you might call the national conversation.
Twitter is full of pundits and arguers and reporters who, for over a year, fed news to their followers who then digested it in public. It makes sense that participants would be more galvanized than observers — that’s why they showed up in the first place.