Twitter a Polling Alternative?

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Twitter BirdTwitter a polling alternative?  This idea was proposed and discussed at great length on NPR’s “On the Media” August 12.  Rather than trying to summarize the show, let me just quote the abstract:

“Twitter has teamed up with Republican and Democratic polling firms, as well as another company called Topsy, to create a new tool called the Twindex. It offers a new way to gauge the political leanings of likely voters. Bob speaks with Adam Sharp, Twitter’s manager for government and politics.”

This is typical media stupidity.  Tweets are public unless you work very hard to keep them private.  Most people on Twitter do not reveal much about their personal lives.  There are many fake personas, too.  Our cat has a Twitter feed (made up mostly of other household pets and other animals).  People routinely lie.  People will also lie to a telephone pollster, but at least they don’t have the incentive of their response being visible to the entire world.

Ironically, most of the comments deal with Twitter users not being representative of the public because they are too technical.  Sheesh.  If you can’t use Twitter, you probably can’t really function in today’s world at all.

David Burge has an excellent column on the reality of polling and statistics on his blog.  I strongly recommend reading it before you sign up for Twindex (or any other social media based metric).