In case you hadn't noticed, early voting is a thing this year. It's been underway in some states for weeks ahead of Election Day. And like everything else election-related, it's popping up all over social media.
With data from the Electome, a project of the MIT Media Lab which uses machine learning algorithms to analyze the election conversation on Twitter, we looked at how people on social media are talking about early voting and the election.
Early voters have flocked to polling stations and filed absentee ballots in record numbers across the country. Their ballots haven’t even been tallied yet — and poll wizards tell us not to read too much into early votes as predictors — so it’s premature to assess the impact of the massive early turnout. Also, Twitter's audience is not necessarily representative of the electorate as a whole. It tends to skew younger, more urban and slightly more male than the general population. But what can we learn about how people feel when they cast their ballot from a tweet?
Well, for one thing, people tweeting about early voting are resoundingly with her. Throughout this long (oh, so long) campaign, pro-Trump hashtags like #MakeAmericaGreatAgain (and its more popular variant, #MAGA) are generally used far more often than the pro-Clinton #ImWithHer and #StrongerTogether. But people using the #iVoted hashtag used #ImWithHer in their tweets six times more often than they did #MAGA.
We focused on people who used Twitter’s emoji-enabled #iVoted hashtag, as well as keywords like “voted today” and “mailed in my ballot.” And we zeroed in on the 41 states that have early voting, where many people were able to vote as early as mid-October. So we looked at tweets fired off between October 14 and November 5. Keep in mind this list of early voting states excludes heavies like Pennsylvania and Virginia. The #iVoted hashtag is just beginning to get traction. Early voting tweets that matched this search represented less than 1% of election-related tweets, or roughly several thousand tweets on any given day.
That said, there are clear signs that people posting to Twitter about early voting are more enthusiastic about their candidates than the general Twitter electorate. For instance, the words “proud” and “happy” come up frequently. We haven’t seen those words very much this election, even among either candidate’s diehard supporters.
Here's a pro-Clinton tweet:
And, here's an example of a pro-Trump tweet.
Some of the more negative, often “lesser-of-two-evils” hashtags have remained popular among early voters, particularly — the never say never hashtag — #NeverTrump.
In the overall election chatter, Mr. Trump has consistently garnered 3 to 4 times as much attention as the Democratic nominee. This is the day-by-day split since October 14:
Compare that to name-drops among people tweeting about early voting, where Clinton has actually been talked about slightly more than Trump.
There is no way to know what this sharp flip in each candidate’s Twitter turf could mean for Tuesday's outcome. Conversation share can be influenced by many factors, from bots to search trends. One thing we can say for sure, Twitter’s self-proclaimed early voters are seemingly bluer, and they are decidedly happy about it.
Correction: An early version of this story misidentified a user's Tweet as 'pro-Trump.' The example has been updated.
Shawn Musgrave is a writer for the Electome project at the MIT Media Lab.