It is election season again. As news about the Republican primaries and President Obama’s approval ratings dominate the airwaves, two relatively new political movements, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, are inciting a kind of political activism that has scarcely been seen in recent memory. Many people claim to speak for each movement, claiming to know what proponents want; but in truth, these groups are both new and have evolving ideologies.
Rather than rely on the rhetoric of often self-proclaimed leaders of these movements, we can instead listen directly to the discussions of the movements’ followers. With this in mind, we rolled up our sleeves (metaphorically - Georgia Tech has yet to master consistent indoor climate control), pulled out some laptops, sudo-ed some libraries, and captured Twitter timelines to find out what members themselves actually talk about, and if the groups are as different as they and the media would have us believe.
Since we were not interested in what the Michelle Bachmans, Elizabeth Warrens, Keith Obermans, or Glenn Becks of the world were saying about these movements, we needed a way to find tweets of Occupy and Tea Party followers. To do this we researched news sites, blogs, and political sites to find 3 Twitter feeds for each movement that we felt were representative of that movement. Then we grabbed tweets from followers of each of those feeds.
The Twitter feeds we chose were not meant to be exhaustive, but representative. We felt it was important to focus on the followers of official and unofficial spokespeople of the respective movements, rather than the spokespeople themselves to ensure that the tweets we gathered came from genuine unconstrained conversations rather than from what each organization approved as its official message. A list of the accounts can be found below.
Once we had our sample, we collected only the latest tweet from followers who had completely public timelines, and we spaced out the tweet collection over several days between 12/10/11 and 12/15/11. The result was a corpus of 15,000 tweets from 15,000 different people (7,500 per group).
The following steps were taken to do an initial analysis of the data:
1) Word-counting/phrase-counting software was used to generate a list of words or phrases (excluding common and noise words and phrases like “http”, rt”,”via”,“com”) from each Tweet corpus which appeared 40 or more times. 45 word fit this criteria for the occupy movement and 77 for the tea party movements.
2) From that list of words and phrases, we determined a set of 17 relevant words which appeared 40 or more times in both corpora.
What we got
We performed a chi-square test on the 17 words to determine differences between each group of followers. Below is an example.
* We assumed that each term would be used only once per Tweet, so while “Christmas” would have a count of 55, not-“Christmas” would have a count of (7,500 – “Christmas”).
We also preformed a chi-square test on the number of unique words mentioned over 40 times that the occupy group tweeted versus the number of unique words mentioned over 40 times that the tea party group tweeted.
Pictured here is a diagram revealing a surprising finding: while there were approximately 24,000 total words in the combined corpus of 15,000 Tweets, only 4,000 of those words were used by both the Occupy Wall Street followers and the Tea Party followers; each group used 10,000 words unique to them.
So are they different?
In a nutshell: yes they are different.
70% of 17 the words we examined showed a significant difference in occurrence between the two groups. It is interesting to note that all but one of the words that showed no significant difference in occurrence between the two groups are typically used as verbs; “love”, “support”, “think”, and “read”. The only noun specific word with a non-statistical difference between groups was “world”. If we remove the verbs and focus on the nouns then 92% of the words show a significant difference between groups.
Since nouns generally relate to topics, our results show that the Occupy Movement and Tea Party have significantly different topics that dominate their conversations. This suggests that the Tea Party and Occupy Movement do have different motivations and interests. Since both are largely political movements it would suggest that they are both trying to bring out different changes in the United States’ political landscape. However, just because they appear to be different, we cannot assume, based on our data, that they are in opposition.
Other cool stuff
There is a significant difference (p-value = .00255) between the numbers of words that Tea Party followers mentioned internally more than 40 times, and the number of words that Occupy Movement followers mention more than 40 times (77 for the Tea Party and 45 for Occupy). Since the Tea Party followers used the same words more often, we assume that they are all talking about the same topics or at least repeating the same phrases. This could suggest either that the Tea Party is either more ideologically organized, promoting a shared lexicon and phraseology, or that the tea party members have more homogeneous interests then members of the Occupy movement.
We noticed that the Occupy follower tweets contained a fair number of tweets in other languages compared to the Tea Party tweets. This could suggest that the Occupy movement has more interest internationally, or at least of people who speak other languages. In future research grabbing the geo tag information form the followers’ tweets would help shed light on these possibilities.
We noted that while OWS (Occupy Wall Street) and Occupy both received more than 40 mentions (57 times and 61 times respectively) in the Tea Party corpus, no words that directly related to the Tea Party were mentioned more than 40 times in the Occupy corpus. This could suggest that while the Tea Party is interested in the Occupy Movement and what they are doing, the Occupy Movement is not interested in the Tea Party.
The name of four prominent Republican presidential candidates and the word “debate” were all mentioned more than 40 times. This suggests that the Tea Party followers are interested in the Republican primary debates, and most interested in these 4 candidates. While the data itself does not suggest whether or not the Tea Party has positive feelings about the Republican candidates it does reinforce the cultural perception that the Tea Party is closely related to the Republican Party.
*Word cloud images from Tagcrowd.com
Selected Twitter Feeds
Tea Party Movement