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Election Analysis

A group of UT graduate students is using sophisticated social media monitoring technology to scrutinize the presidential election and gain valuable insights into the mood of American voters.

The group is enrolled in the Political Communication Seminar, and their social laboratory is the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center in the College of Communication and Information.

The center is equipped with the same software used by Fortune 100 companies around the world to track their social media marketing efforts.

The software allows users to analyze how issues spark debate on one platform versus another and in one region of the country or world versus another. It can also generate charts, graphs, and word clouds.

The students have reported their findings in real time during the presidential and vice presidential debates and plan to do so for Election Day as well.

During the first debate, the group found that Donald Trump drew nearly twice as many negative posts as Hillary Clinton. References to #FightingISIS spiked 2,000 percent on Facebook and Twitter with large negative associations for both candidates.

The group said the second debate generated two million more posts than the first. Despite media reports focused on the debate’s rancor, the students found that social media sentiment about both candidates actually seemed to improve during the debate. Clinton’s positive mentions went up 12 percentage points and Trump’s rose by 10 points.

Despite media coverage on Trump’s claims of a rigged election, during the third debate his refusal to say he would accept election results only spurred 16,000 posts. By contrast, mentions of Russia by both candidates generated 690,000 posts.

Participating in this analysis has caused one class member, Jamie Greig, to see a shift in US politics.

“It seems like people are turning on what is deemed the crafted, marketing-created politician,” Greig says. “Through Social Studio [the software at the heart of the center], we can gain a sense as to where this dissatisfaction is aimed, what it is that people really see when they look at the candidates.”

The seminar is taught by Stuart N. Brotman, Howard Distinguished Endowed Professor of Media Management and Law and Beaman Professor of Communication and Information. He looks at ways the class benefits his students along with academics.

“Learning Social Studio is a unique capability,” Brotman says. “This is a chance to learn before getting into the professional world. When they go into the marketplace to look for jobs, they’re going to have an advantage for major companies.”

Beth Hurst says the Social Studio skills she has learned in this seminar will figure into her future plans.

“After earning my PhD, I hope to continue my research for a government organization or think-tank. Right now, I am working on my tool bag of methods to answer questions I’m interested in and this will help me in my career,” Hurst explains.

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