Twitter recently announced its new Twitter Political Index, a resource that claims to reflect the voter sentiment of Twitter users concerning the candidates for the 2012 election. In its first test run, the Twindex said Obama was at 34% while Romney trails with 25% of positive Twitter sentiment. August 1, Obama’s rating had jumped ten points to 44%. Shocking.
Commentators have already pointed out the obvious: that the sampling for the poll is limited to those people who use Twitter and is therefore not the most inclusive, or accurate, means of determining what the average American really feels. Many people who vote don’t even have Twitter accounts (myself included), and there is no doubt that the Twitter demographic is heavily slanted toward all those very hip people who think, contrary to all reasonable considerations, that Obama is the bee’s knees. I’m frankly surprised that Romney did as well as 25% with the Twits.
Election polls in general fall into Twain’s famous category of lies: “statistics.” Since the advent of the mass media, polls have been used more for swaying public opinion than reporting it. And the reason for this is obvious: no one likes to be on the losing side, so polls are a golden opportunity to tell the voter which side will win so they can save themselves the embarrassment of advocating an unpopular opinion. When you add to this that most people are badly informed, that most people don’t live (or vote) by convictions, and that the two-party system forces most people to vote pragmatically, the polls become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don’t want to vote for that guy! He’s unelectable! Oh, well, I don’t want to vote a guy into office that’s unelectable! I guess I’ll cast my ballot for this other guy.
Ever since Reagan popularized the idea of the “silent majority,” it has become more and more obvious that the mainstream polling samples are out of touch with the way people really think. [Correction: Nixon actually popularized the idea of a “silent majority,” not Reagan. Thanks, rocky63 for the correction.] Last night, my family and I waited for an hour and a half for some spicy chicken sandwiches and chicken nuggets. Our local Chick-Fil-A had to shut down orders for thirty minutes just to catch up. And no one was upset about it. This same scenario was repeated all over the country. Apparently, the vociferous public outrage over Dan Cathy’s opinions wasn’t really shared by private citizens. I think there are still hundreds of thousands of people out there whose opinions are not being reflected in polls. And though they may not be ranting to the world in 144 characters or less, these very “unhip” people are going to let their opinion be heard in the voting booth, Twindex notwithstanding.