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Student-developed website takes pulse of election on Twitter

November 2, 2010 By Stacy Forster

This year’s midterm elections haven’t even been decided yet and already there’s a way to analyze them.

A group of University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate students, working with professor of mass communication and political science Dhavan Shah, have collected “tweets” from Twitter by more than 500 candidates for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governors’ chairs around the country.

Their searchable website — — will give researchers and political junkies a window into how candidates and voters are using the social networking site to interact and on what issues they’re engaging with each other. (The website’s name references the 140 characters allowed in Twitter postings.)

During this year’s campaigns, candidates from all sides of the political aisle have used Twitter to get closer to their supporters — and undecided voters.

Led by Ben Sayre, a graduate student in journalism, and Alex Hanna, a graduate student in sociology, the students involved in the Social Media and Democracy research group affiliated with UW–Madison’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication have also collected the Twitter activity of 50 randomly selected followers of each candidate.

Candidates are still learning how to use social media, says Dhavan Shah, professor of mass communication and political science, who coordinates the Social Media and Democracy research group.

“It’s very hard for candidates to navigate it, but we see a remarkable difference in candidates that are successfully deploying it and those who are using it with less success,” Shah says.

Sayre and Hanna have been collecting tweets since Labor Day — the heart of the campaign season. The students plan to continue following candidates from the campaign trail to Capitol Hill to gauge how they continue to use social media to interact with voters-turned-constituents.