How voters turned out on Facebook

We just posted this on the Data Team Page, and I thought I would post it here as well.

When Facebook users in the United States logged into Facebook on Election Day this year, they were greeted by a message alerting them of voting activity on Facebook. Users could click a button to announce to their friends that they had already voted and see which of their friends had done the same.

These data about who on Facebook voted offer a new lens into the demographics and behaviors underpinning election returns.  There are a few caveats, (e.g., selection bias for those who are members of Facebook and who visit frequently, reporting bias, no verification, etc.), but we believe that looking at these data across a number of dimensions offers insight into what types of people decided to vote, when they went to the polls, and which factors may have influenced the election.

Voter turnout has been a central issue during this election cycle.  Would disillusioned voters stay home? Would there be an enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats? By looking at those users who state their political affiliation on Facebook, we can see a significant discrepancy between the Democrats and Republicans: Dems were 3% less likely than Republicans to get out to the poll. In a number of House and Governor elections, this would have been enough to flip the vote.

We can also observe how people of different ages behaved. The figure above shows the proportion of users in each age bucket who said they voted as a fraction of the people who came to the site yesterday, broken down by political party. If you’re wondering if youth today are apathetic about voting, this graph is striking proof that of this fact. The height of voter turnout peaks at 65 years of age, while the lowest turnout occurs at 18 years of age. In fact, a 65 year old is almost 3 times as likely to vote as a younger counterpart.  This tracks results collected from traditional exit polls, which also show a 30% turnout gap between younger voters and older voters.  Furthermore, while Democrats were able to mobilize as many young voters as Republicans, Republicans were far more successful at mobilizing older voters.

Many of the seats in this year’s election were hotly contested.  But did voters respond by turning out to the polls? The map above shows voter turnout by state. There are a few general trends: lower rates of people in the South and the Northeast turned out. The two states with lowest voter turnout were New York and Utah, followed closely by Mississippi and Nebraska.

Another view into the state-level turnout is the relative percentage of voters who came out in each state. The map above shows the share of voters in each state: A blue state means Democrats were voting much more than Republicans, while red implies high Republican turnout relative to Democrats. States with an even number of Democrats and Republicans voting are grey.  Unsurprisingly, traditionally blue states on the Pacific coast and northeast are blue, while the South and mountain states are red.  Grey states partially reflect some of the most hotly disputed seats in battleground states, such as Nevada and Virginia.

On our election-day display we showed users which of their friends had voted; but how much effect could this have on voter turnout? Could people see their friends voting and go out to do the same? The above plot shows the probability that a person voted yesterday as a function of the fraction of their friends who had voted. As more and more of your friends vote, not surprisingly, you are more likely to vote. Unfortunately, we cannot tell whether this effect is because of social influence, or if voting practice is simply clustered at a local level, but the fact that voting behavior is shared between friends is quite clear.

Finally, we wanted to look into recent research which suggests that irrelevant events can have a large effect on voter turnout. It was expected that the winners of this year’s World Series would get a boost in voters, while the loser would see a decline. As we can see from the chart above, 6% fewer Rangers fans voted than Giants fans (go Giants!), but without any longitudinal data it is impossible to know if winning or playing in the world series had a causal effect on voter turnout.  Results, however, are suggestive.  It is worth noting that both Giants fans and Rangers fans turned out at rates significantly lower than others in those states (California and Texas). Having the last game of the World Series the night before the election probably means some people weren’t in the right mindset to go out and vote the very next morning.

This post was made possible by Jonathan Chang who crunched the numbers, Jason Bonta, Feng Qian, Nathan Schrenk and Doug Li who developed the election day tool and Adam Conner who brought our election day efforts together.

Obama: not bubble-sort

Nerds will find humor in this Eric Schmidt/Barack Obama quote about sorting:

Pretending to be a technologist isn’t always advisable here, but Obama gave a convincing answer on his visit to the Googleplex in November when he was asked by chief executive Eric Schmidt about “the most efficient way to sort a million 32-bit integers,” a problem in computer coding. (Obama apparently had been given the question in advance and was told it stumped McCain on his visit to Google.)

Without missing a beat, Obama said, correctly, “I think the bubble sort would be the wrong way to go.” Then he smiled.

“C’mon, who told him that?” Schmidt asked.

(thanks alan)

Obama’s music taste

I was surprised the other day when I stumbled onto Barack Obama’s Facebook page and discovered that he actually filled out his music tastes:

Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder,
Johann Sebastian Bach (cello suites), and The Fugees

I think that given the task of coming up with a more inclusive list, I don’t think I could come close. Some pop culture researcher must have consulted. Seriously, who would be offended by anything on this list, and everyone probably identifies with something.

Some of his other tastes:

Movies: Casablanca, Godfather I & II, Lawrence of Arabia and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Books: Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison), Moby Dick,
Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Parting the Waters, Gilead (Robinson), Self-Reliance (Emerson), The Bible, Lincoln’s Collected Writings

TV Show: Sportscenter

IS2K4: Internet Campaign Strategies

kennedy school of governmentTo mark the beginning of the Internet + Society 2004 conference, the Kennedy School of Government cohosted an event this evening with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society on the topic of the internet in the 2004 elections. The forum consisted of two panelists, Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for the Howard Dean campaign and Michael Turk, online campaign director for the Bush-Cheney ’04 ticket. The panel was moderated by Kathleen Matthews, anchorwoman for ABC News.

The discussion was awash with utopian musings around the effect of technology on politics in the last year, but a number of interesting points emerged from the discussion. Trippi noted that the Dean campaign was largely due to the fact that supporters used technology to support the campaign in ways that the organizers had never expected. Most of all he stressed the importance of the conversation that emerged among Dean supporters, something that was not available to citizens in the 2000 election.

Turk followed suit with a similar handful of anecdotes and stories that made technology out to be a central part of the Republican success. He noted that the difference in their campaign strategy was the extent to which “viral marketing” allowed for the efficient spread of information to interested parties. Instead of relying on a centralized machine, the GOP was able to take advantage of their supporters to spread the word.
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The final presidential debate

image courtesy of cnn.comThe third and final presidential took place tonight, and while I felt undecided on the results, an early CNN poll gave Kerry a substantial margin with a 59% to 39% victory over Bush. But first, a few words from our candidates (thanks to Microsoft Word):

Kerry in 100 words: 82,000 Arizonians lost their health insurance under President Bush’s watch. This president has turned his back on the wellness of America. President Bush has taken — he’s the only president in history to do this. 6 million jobs lost. This president has taken a $5. Once again, the president is misleading America. The president just said that government-run health care results in poor quality. The jobs the president is creating pay $9,000 less than the jobs that we’re losing. 6 million jobs. The president has denied 9. Let me pay a compliment to the president, if I may.

Bush in 100 words: My opponent talks about fiscal sanity. You voted to increase taxes 98 times. Most health-care costs are covered by third parties. If you have a child, you got tax relief. If you’re married, you got tax relief. If you pay any tax at all, you got tax relief. We passed tax relief. We’ll increase federal spending. We’ve increased funds. The people I talked to their spirits were high. My opponent, the senator, talks about foreign policy. I think people understand what she’s saying.

Kerry’s language in this debate focused on three phrases: minimum wage (8 mentions), health insurance (6 mentions), and social security (6 mentions), a recognizable platform for a democratic candidate.

Bush’s language on the other hand was less issue focused with the most popular phrases of my opponent (7), four years (6), and best way (5), a seemingly more defensive tone.

My personal reaction to the debate was that Kerry seemed overly repetitive and slightly less focused on the questions at hand, bringing terrorism and foreign policy into the debate too often when the focus was supposed to be on domestic issues. The CNN poll found however that viewers raised their opinion of Kerry more during the debate than Bush:

When asked who would handle domestic issues better, Kerry scored higher in health care (55-41). There was no clear leader on the economy (Kerry 51, Bush 46), education (Kerry 48, Bush 47) or taxes (Bush 50, Kerry 47). Kerry’s biggest win came on the question of who expressed himself better, where 61 percent of respondents chose him over Bush (29 percent).

I find it fascinating how bad my personal reaction is to the results of these political exchanges. After doing various forms of analysis for each of the debates, I feel like none of these methods have a predictive effect on the reaction of the voters. Or at least my reaction to the actual events and subsequent analysis seems to be contrary to the rest of the population. With that said, I guess it’s going to be a gripping election.

For more information on this analysis, please see analyses of the first presidential debate, vice presidential debate, and second presidential debate.

Presidential Debate Redux

bush and kerryI’ve rerun my presidential debate analysis (see analyses from the first presidential debate and the vice presidential debate) on the scripts of the second presidential debate. I’ve also updated the Debate Spotter to include the new text. But this time I’ve taken a slightly different approach to the analysis. Instead of some complicated weighting scheme, I’ve decided to use a very simple technique to sort the phrases for each candidate:

  • Count the number of phrases for each candidate
  • Score each phrase as the difference between the number of times each candidate used the phrase
  • Favor longer phrases in sorting

The results follow, and I think you’ll find them much more revealing than the previous lists. I also fed both candidate’s transcripts into Microsoft Word’s AutoSummarize feature to produce a sub-100 word summary. The results are… umm… compelling. From my perspective, it seems as though Kerry is on the offensive, and Bush is backpeddling. But of course that’s just Microsoft’s take on the debate. Click on the following links to download the source Word documents. I’ll leave running the grammar checker as an exercise to the reader.

kerry041008.doc bush041008.doc
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Vice Presidential Debate Analysis

Akin to my last entry, I’ve run the transcript of the Vice Presidential Debate through a part of speech tagger and identified the most popular noun phrases for each speaker (listed below). I’ve also updated the Debate Spotter to handle both scripts. Simply change the debate field and the transcript and speakers will be changed accordingly.

Have fun, and of course let us know if you identify any interesting phrases.

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Presidential Debate Analysis

Whenever I watch a televised debate, I always wonder what percentage of the speaker’s message is actually thinking on the feet and how much is canned material. With the advent of available transcripts, these sorts of questions can be addressed with various computational methods.

A simple way to identify repeated statements is to count the number of times a particular noun phrase is metioned. Noun phrases act as both a proxy to the subject matter of a given piece of text, but also the way in which things are worded.

For this simple experiment, we’ll need four tools:

The results are quite interesting. Looking only at noun phrases of at least 2 words occuring at least twice for a given speaker, we arrive at some spectacular catch phrases. For Bush my favorite is “hard work,” which he said repeatedly. Apparently Bush thinks that the world is a difficult place to be. For Kerry, a salient phrase was “war as a last resort.”

The top 25 phrases for Bush and Kerry follow. The number following each phrase is a rank described by the length of the phrase and the number of times it appeared.

There are so many other types of analysis that could be run on these data. If you find anything interesting, please let me know. Also, the Debate Spotter allows for any query, so post any interesting phrases that you find.

Update: I have also analyzed the Vice Presidential and the Second Presidential debates.
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