Measuring relative public opinion on location-based social media: the 2016 presidential election

Authors: Jean-Claude Thill*, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Zhaoya Gong, University of Birmingham, Tengteng Cai, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Scott Hale, University of Oxford, Mark Graham, University of Oxford
Topics: Spatial Analysis & Modeling, Geographic Information Science and Systems, Political Geography
Keywords: location-based social media, polling, opinion, word embedding, presidential elections
Session Type: Paper
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Social media has become an emerging alternative to opinion polls for public opinion collection, while it is still posing many challenges as a passive data source, such as structurelessness, quantifiability, and representativeness. Social media data with geotags provide new opportunities to unveil the geographic locations of users expressing their opinions. This paper aims to answer two questions: 1) whether quantifiable measurement of public opinion can be obtained from social media and 2) whether it can produce better or complementary measures compared to opinion polls. This research proposes a novel approach to measure the relative opinion of Twitter users towards public issues in order to accommodate more complex opinion structures and take advantage of the geography pertaining to the public issues. To ensure that this new measure is technically feasible, a modeling framework is developed including building a training dataset by adopting a state-of-the-art approach and devising a new deep learning method called Opinion-Oriented Word Embedding. With a case study of the tweets selected for the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we demonstrate the predictive superiority of our relative opinion approach and we show how it can aid visual analytics and support opinion predictions. Although the relative opinion measure is proved to be more robust compared to polling, our study also suggests that the former can advantageously complement the later in opinion prediction.

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