Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States handed down two rulings about marriage equality, U.S. v. Windsor, or the DOMA case, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, or Prop 8. Following the rulings, people flocked to Twitter and other social media sites in droves to voice their opinions.
We set up a DataSift stream to record Tweets that had “doma” or “prop8” as keywords. Over the course of 7 hours, from 7am PDT to 3pm PDT we recorded just under 180,000 tweets. 179,883 if you really want to be precise about it. For future blog posts, we will be exploring DataSift’s Twitter “Historics” service, where we’ll be able to compare across all the years of Twitter history that they have, so that we can see how perceptions have changed. That will be quite spiffy.
We processed the Tweets through Lexalytics’ Salience text mining engine, version 5.1.1 (the latest and greatest!) with no tuning or customization. Then, we used Tableau to visualize the results.
Here’s what we found.
The overall sentiment analysis yields figures that show twice as much positive sentiment as negative, with almost as much neutral sentiment as positive. This is a relatively simplistic way of looking at such a vast amount of data, however, so I’m going dig a bit deeper.
These are the top hashtags, gathered in the twelve hours following the Supreme Court decisions. It’s easy to see that most all of the tags yield a net positive sentiment, the strongest green, and therefore most positive sentiment, is found in the #loveislove, #NoH8, and #Equality tags. This is relatively unsurprising.
The solitary red hashtag is #tcot, is an acronym for Top Conservatives on Twitter. The hashtag is used by conservative twitter figures in order to reach likeminded individuals. It’s easy then, to track the negative sentiment here to conservative Twitter users, who may have disagreed with the rulings handed down by the Supreme Court. This is slightly exaggerated – the average sentiment was -.07, which really should be neutral – but it was the only hashtag that had sentiment < 0.
But where, then, is the rest of the negative and neutral sentiment coming from? Using Salience Themes (automatic topic extraction), we can get a feel for the important concepts that people are trying to get across.
As we can see more clearly here in our top themes, some of it is just the wording. Tweets including words such as “Good riddance” are scored by the software as negative, although they obviously aren’t feeling negative about the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings.
The themes “equal liberty”, “same-sex marriage”, and“marriage ruling” are swayed by more technical discussions of the Supreme Court’s actual rulings. Equal liberty refers to the opinion handed down by the majority ruling in the case of the Defense of Marriage Act, which held that a federal ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional because it violated Fifth Amendment protections of equal liberty, and therefore it struck down. Words that I just used, such as “unconstitutional”, “ban”, “violated”, and “struck down” are all coded as negative, and tilt the sentiment of the entire theme into the negative as well.
There are other reasons that those tweeting about the Supreme Court rulings were coming across as ambiguous in their feelings on case, even if they are supporters. Referencing back to our top hashtags, the #VRA tag lands squarely in the middle. There were other rulings by the Supreme Court in this last week that have been drowned out by the monumental amount of coverage surrounding the issue of marriage equality. One of these was the Voting Rights Act, decision, wherein the Supreme Court chose to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passing in 1964, which detailed which states required federal permission to change their voting laws based on their history of racism and voter suppression. Many of those affected by this ruling took the time to use the DOMA and Prop 8 tags as a platform to remind the celebratory not to overlook the potentially ominous outcome of this previous ruling.
We also looked at the top hashtags by women and men, respectively. There doesn’t seem to be any large degree of difference between the two. #LoveIsLove seemed about twice as prevalent among female tweeters, while #SCOTUS seemed to be a more popular tag for male tweeters.
Female Hashtags Male Hashtags
While Twitter is by no means an accurate statistical sample of the general population, an in depth and educated analysis of sentiment and opinion shows a strong positive leaning by its users towards the Supreme Court rulings. The widespread attention that this subject has garnered should not be ignored. Without it, it’s worth wondering whether the Supreme Court would have chosen to take up these cases in the first place. Regardless of personal opinion, we think it’s worth keeping our finger on the pulse.