Goodbye Pollsters, Hello 'Sentiment Analyzers'

Candidates on the losing side of their midterm election races may see some familiar faces in the unemployment line come November 3rd. Pollsters.

Candidates on the losing side of their midterm election races may see some familiar faces in the unemployment line come November 3rd. Pollsters.

Yes, venerable polling institutions like Gallup and Zogby who always seem to want our opinion right as we sit down to dinner have new competition on the rise: sentiment analysis.

The technique, which analyzes conversations on social networking sites, blogs and other online conversations to measure public opinion, is finding a home in politics, reports the New York Times.

We’ve reported widely on the use of social media in politics to reach voters, from iPhones for canvassing, to campaigns on YouTube and politicians on Twitter. But it’s an interesting development to see campaigns now using social media to definitively track and measure voters.

The Times concludes, “campaigns and the news media are becoming convinced that the Internet can also be mined systematically for useful data about public opinion.”

Pollsters have come under fire this election season in particular for not adapting to changes in the way people communicate, like using cell phones instead of landlines and writing on a blog instead of answering a pollster’s inquiries.

Sentiment analysis is attractive to campaigns because it allows them get public opinion data in real time, a crucial factor for campaigns and media alike in the 24/7 news cycle created by the Internet. It also allows the campaigns to monitor where and how ideas develop among voters and whether the language around their candidate is negative or positive.

Political consultants tell the Times the industry is still figuring out exactly how to use the tool and how to overcome its various obstacles such as making sure the sample is representative of voters and that the conversation is relevant.

Nonetheless, they conclude it could very well be de rigueur by the time President Obama runs for reelection in 2012.