Paul Ryan: Surprising Initial Reactions

This post is part of an ongoing series of social media analyses of social sentiment and social media engagement regarding the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election.

After months of speculation, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney tapped Wisconsin House Representative and Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan to be the party’s Vice Presidential nominee.  By analyzing Twitter sentiment using Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight platform, we find that the majority of the sentiment expressing both positive and negative opinions regarding the choice of Paul Ryan focus on the economy and Ryan’s fiscal plans.

In The Atlantic, pundits and politicos express that both Republicans and Democrats are “happy” that Romney chose Ryan for the ticket, as they find his fiscal policies a benefit and a detriment respectively.  By looking to over 500,000 opinions expressed on Twitter over the first four days after the Romney campaign announced Ryan as his Vice Presidential candidate, peaking at 3,749 tweets per minute, we uncovered that people engaging via social media do, indeed, see Ryan as a “good” choice in opposite ways.   

Of those who support Romney’s choice of Ryan, at a total of 17% of opinions analyzed, 2% talked about the benefits Ryan brings to the Romney camp, in both his energizing of the Republican base and formidability in debate with Vice President Biden.  Yet, surprisingly, 1%, or about 2500 posts, of those who “support” and speak positively about the choice of Paul Ryan cite the benefit to Obama’s campaign efforts as their reason for reacting positively to the announcement.

Some social media users who express “negative” sentiment actually do so because they have different, perhaps even greater, aspirations for Representative Ryan.  A small yet coherent minority of those who tweeted about the announcement, at about 800 posts of the entire volume, stated that Ryan’s talents and visions regarding economic policy will be wasted in the largely ceremonial and secondary role of Vice President, as opposed to his current position on the House Budget Committee.

However, the common theme driving both forms of sentiment toward Paul Ryan focus on the economy and his budget plan. That the economy is the main drive behind these opinions highlights two things: 1) the economy and Medicare are now the center focus of the election and 2) Romney’s choice of vice president carries its share of risk. As the face of the Tea Party, Paul Ryan could be seen as too conservative or too radical.

In our analysis, we found that 55% of the conversation focused on sharing the news through mentions of the candidate (27%) or by publicizing the announcement (6%), yet others engaged through humor (22%).  Echoing the tradition of political satirists from Mark Twain to Jon Stewart, we find that humor is a significant mode through which people engage and interact about politics and this highly-anticipated announcement via social media.

As the conversation and debate ramp up, we will continue to monitor this opinion space for shifts and trends, along with the emergence of new themes of discussion.

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