UPDATE Nov. 14: This story has been quoted in Mashable.
Today’s CBS News poll is the top tweet and breaking story of the morning, with Herman Cain leading the 2012 GOP and Newt Gingrich gaining, tied for second with Mitt Romney. That’s no surprise to us at 140elect. Thanks to our Twitter tracking and metrics, we’ve seen this coming for a while. That’s because a change in Twitter following is a leading indicator of polling. Candidates will receive a burst of followers days or weeks before their poll numbers shift. Though I have been pointing to this for a while, nobody had proven it. We teamed up with Lori Williams at Tableau Software, which does statistical analysis and data visualization, to finally show this connection. We sent Williams the past 7 months of data for Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Romney, Paul and Perry, and she consolidated moving averages of 5 national polls for each of the candidates.
Use the buttons on the top left to choose a different candidate. Hover over the labeled peaks to see the top tweets for the day.
Spikes in followers consistently precede shifts in the polls. Look at Gingrich for instance. He receives a major spike in followers and polling when he announces on May 11th, then goes down in the polls until a September 7th GOP debate where he makes a splash. This spike in followers precedes a steady, upward shift in polling for Newt Gingrich.
The Twitter analysis we find most predictive of political polling is modeled on technical analysis of stock charts. We establish trendlines across consecutive highs and lows of the daily new follower count for a candidate. A decisive break up from a trendline predicts a growth in the polls within the next few days. A decisive break down in trendline predicts a drop in the polls.
Rick Perry had the largest spike in followers on his announcement day, which was soon reflected in growing poll numbers. Since his first debate, Perry’s new follower trendline has been down, and this is reflected in steadily dropping poll numbers. Twitter shows that nobody cares about what Perry has to say, although they do enjoy mocking Perry after each debate. Michele Bachmann experienced a dramatic break down in her new follower trendline on August 15th, and her poll numbers have been dropping ever since.
Even the perennial candidate Mitt Romney experienced three major spikes in new followers over the GOP primary season, each followed by growth in the polls. The downward trendline of peaks in Twitter followers for Romney since October 11th has been predictive of his weakened standing in the polls announced today. While standing next to Rick Perry in GOP debates seems to raise his standing comparatively, the Romney-Perry feud ultimately hurt both candidates.
What about Herman Cain, who has been beleaguered by his sexual harassment scandal? His growth in Twitter followers has declined, but has not made a decisive break down past his minimum trendline. This indicates his momentum has come to a halt and he won’t be rising in the polls anytime soon, but his front-runner status is not likely to collapse quite yet either.
Still not convinced that Twitter predicts polls? Check out the statistical analysis below that directly compares poll percentage with new follows and mentions. A higher number of Twitter followers is positively correlated with higher poll numbers. Have questions or discoveries? Email us at email@example.com or Tweet us @140elect.
Click a circle to see polls used in calculating the average. Double-click on an area of the scatter plot to zoom in. Use the circular arrow at the bottom to go back to the original view.