Social media expert Eric Yaverbaum believes Indiana University's recent study claiming that Twitter can predict elections is evidence of the transformative impact social media is having on political campaigns.
The study sampled 537,231,508 tweets from August 1 to November 1, 2010 and analyzed data from 406 competitive U.S. congressional elections. In 93% of those elections, the candidate that received more mentions on twitter won.
"Twitter was very accurately able to predict 93% of elections in the House...That's off-the-Richter-scale successful," said Yaverbaum. "And the way news is disseminated now, Twitter is almost first almost all the time."
The study also found that any tweet, positive or negative, was beneficial for a candidate.
"There's a saying 'any press is good press'. I never believed that,'" said Yaverbaum. "But I think it turns out that any tweet is a good tweet."
Last week, when asked how a negative tweet could still benefit a candidate, one of the study's authors, Fabio Rojas, had this to say on MSNBC, “If you are in a race, and you’re generating buzz, then people are going to talk about you whether they like you or not...the buzz is an indicator that you’re picking up support–that you might be on the verge of victory.”'
In order to capitalize on Twitter's apparent power to sway elections, Yaverbaum argues that candidates have to learn how to engage with people who are interested in them and are willing to offer support.
"Cadidates have to learn how to play the game on Twitter in order to talk to people that are most predisposed to seeing their perspective," he said.
So does Twitter's extraordinarily accurate predication rate for elections mean pollsters are now obsolete? Not quite, according to Yaverbaum.
"There's still a very relevant role for pollsters to play," he said. "This is one study, let's see if it bears out over time in a new medium. But I can tell you the new medium whether it's Twitter, Facebook, you name it, will play a big role in who gets into office, so you have to master this stuff. "