Data for the debates

Image via vispolitics

Sixty mil­lion people are expected to tune in on Wednesday night to watch the first pres­i­den­tial debate of this elec­tion season. While the debates them­selves may not deter­mine the out­come of an elec­tion, the voters watching them do.

So, wouldn’t it be nice if we could crawl into the minds of those voters and catch a glimpse of their col­lec­tive thoughts during the debate? How will they respond when the can­di­dates talk about gun con­trol 15 miles from the site of this summer’s tragic movie-​​theater shooting? How will they react when Mitt and Barack tout their plans for pulling the economy out of reces­sion once and for all?

Or forget about responses, what if we could tell what the voters actu­ally wanted to hear about in advance?

A real-​​time data visu­al­iza­tion tool from pro­fessor David Lazer’s lab will allow us to do just that…without any of the gory or sci­en­tific chal­lenges that go along with get­ting inside another person’s brain. Begin­ning around 3pm on Wednesday, it will be view­able online here.

Fol­lowing the Twitter feeds of three so-​​called focus groups, the visu­al­iza­tion will give a real-​​time pic­ture of what the viewers are thinking. But while your stan­dard focus group might con­tain a couple dozen people, these will each have 2500.

Lazer’s team, which includes research pro­fessor Yu-​​Ru Lin who led the effort, research assis­tant pro­fessor Mauro Mar­tino and post-​​doctoral researcher Drew Mar­golin, iden­ti­fied Tweeters who were active in the polit­ical con­ver­sa­tion on Twitter by tracking their activity during the con­ven­tion speeches or tweeted to the CSPAN con­ven­tion hashtag during the con­ven­tions. Since they were likely watching the con­ven­tion and talking about it, the team expects they will also be watching the debate. The groups fall into three cat­e­gories: people that tweeted actively during both the repub­lican and demo­c­ratic con­ven­tions and people that tweeted during one or the other. The visu­al­iza­tion will be a dynamic graph ebbing and flowing with the total number of tweets from each group. A subset of those tweets will be avail­able to read.

Addi­tion­ally, the team will be tracking the volume of fre­quently used words for each of these three groups and will have updated tag clouds every ten sec­onds showing what the people are talking about specifically.

Be sure to check it out while you’re watching the debate for a real-​​time analysis of your fellow voters’ reactions.