Analyzing Political Humor Offers Insights Into 2012 Election Results

Political Memes Enabled Serious Social Media Conversations

Political humor of 2012 election campaignNow that the long and expensive 2012 presidential campaign is over, many of us are interested in assessing what we have learned about the American voters and about the national political process. Of course, on this score, there is much to say. Throughout the campaign, we used our ForSight™ platform for analyzing political humor, opinions and sentiment expressed on social media about the candidates, key events, and political issues.

Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, we presented some of our results in our blog, published others with media partners, and some of our analyses remained internal. Looking over our results – on topics like immigration, negativity in campaigning, perceptions of truth, and the party conventions and debates – one unifying story in particular stood out to us: the role of humor and memes in driving and supporting “serious” political conversation on social media.

In analyzing the political humor, our research indicates that, instead of merely “distracting” us from serious political issues, jokes, wordplay, and humorous memes support and enable substantive political conversation on social media.

Political memes – funny or catchy terms and images – became a major part of the political story during the debates, with big bird, binders, and bayonets. But, using Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight™ platform, we detected the significance of political humor and jokes early on in the campaign, as far back as Mitt Romney’s announcement that Congressman Paul Ryan would serve as his running mate.

Ryan Political Humor

 

Paul Ryan Political HumorHow can we use software to determine whether humor is trending on social media? Isn’t comedy very much in the eye of the beholder?

Yes, and that where Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight comes in.

Dissecting Irony, Humor and Complex Speech

ForSight analyzes social media posts based on how a person classifies a small set of posts into user-defined categories. Then, the algorithm uses aggregate statistical methods to analyze a large volume of social media posts. Crimson Hexagon’s patented approach provides users of ForSight with insight into what people are “really saying” on social media, including irony, humor, and complex speech.

Isn’t political humor on social media vacuous, and doesn’t it distract us from “real” political issues?

To address this question, let’s look how people used humor on Twitter to respond to Ann Romney’s speech to the Republican National Convention. We found that negative opinions represented 37% of the conversation, and positive opinions of Mrs. Romney and her speech represented 22% of the conversation.

Political Humor around Ann RomneyA third major driver of the conversation about Mrs. Romney, at 35% of the conversation, was jokes and humor. Of those humorous posts, we found that many of them drew on themes related to Mrs. Romney’s wealth. One popular tweet that was retweeted many times asked, “Can you imagine if Ann Romney rode in on Rafalca?” Rafalca is the name of Mrs. Romney’s champion dressage horse.

These jokes, along with jokes about her “zombie”- or Halloween-like appearance, which express that she is inhuman in a way, are humorous treatments of the criticism of the Romneys wealth and out-of-touch lifestyle, which represented 20% of the negative opinions of Mrs. Romney and her speech at the RNC. We find, in other words, that Twitter users express similar opinions in both a serious and humorous register. Stating straightforwardly that the Romneys are economically privileged gets boring, and treating the subject of wealth can be uncomfortable, yet humor and social media give these opinions and criticisms space to be aired and shared

If you’d like to learn more about how unfunded and unintentional messages and humorous memes shaped the political conversation during the 2012 presidential campaign, including analysis of First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention and an extended case study of the #bindersfullofwomen, Click the button to download our complete study.
Analyzing political humor is just one example of how Crimson Hexagon Forsight Platform offers insight into making serious decisions. Request a demo of our ForSight platform and stay in touch with us on Twitter at @crimsonhexagon.


Written by Elizabeth Breese

As a sociologist and social media analyst bridging the academic and social media worlds, my aim is to analyze and interpret how people communicate in the public sphere.

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