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August 19, 2013 12:51 PM Can Tweeting Really Predict Election Results?

By Jonathan Bernstein

I have a TAP column out today in which I’m not very kind to the sociologists who got a ton of publicity last week from a claim that “tweet share” could predict elections. I only had access when I was writing to an early version of the paper, and I wasn’t impressed…but the bulk of my item was really about what polling and survey research is good for, based on one of the authors unimpressive op-ed which made implausible claims about the technique.

Blog posts here go up, usually, as soon as I write them (although every once in a while I’ll write in advance and hold it, or sometimes during the day I’ll hold one for a while just to keep a better flow). Blog posts at WaPo usually take half an hour or so, and it’s not unusual for them to sit an hour or two. Columns are different…I almost always write the Saturday Salon column on Friday, while TAP columns sometimes take a while to go through editing, and then another wait sometimes for them to slot it in where they want. All of which is to say: since I wrote the this one, some excellent critiques of the study itself are out.

So if you’re interested in the study, please read Jonathan Nagler over at the Monkey Cage, who casts quite a bit of doubt on the findings. That’s the best one, but you may also want to read Rob Santos over at The Fix. And Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy are also very good at HuffPollster. Add it all up, and what you get is this: the study is a dud, and the op-ed publicizing it made claims that the study didn’t even support, even if it had been solid.

Fortunately, my piece is just fine as is, even without all of that (well, I suppose it’s not for me to say it’s fine; I just mean it didn’t depend on the tweet study actually being any good). That’s because I’m primarily using the tweet study as an excuse, as I said, to discuss what polling is good for. Which is quite a lot! I know I’m always saying that people should ignore this or that poll, but that doesn’t mean polling and survey research is worthless. Not at all. So if you want a short primer about what polling is good for anyway, that’s my column.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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