Every year the President of the United States speaks to the nation in the State of the Union Address, addressing the events that have occurred during the past year and the goals that he or she has set for the coming year. Millions of Americans tune into the live television broadcast, and many have incorporated social media into this annual ritual. People across the globe have been transformed from passive viewers to active participants responding to the president’s talking points, political pundits’ analyses, and the wide array of multimedia available on the internet.
Looking at the last four State of the Union addresses delivered by President Obama, it is clear that social media is becoming increasingly important part of the discussion. By constructing the share of voice that each year makes up, we see how the Twitter conversation has grown. While there were over 2.58 million Tweets were written from January 23rd to the 25th in 2012, this number exploded to over 4.42 million Tweets from January 21st to the 23rd in 2015.
Author gender and location highlight interesting similarities and differences between the four years in our investigation. Author gender remains consistent across the years, with roughly 60% of the conversation being made up of men and 40% being made up of women. Not surprisingly, conversation appears to expand and shift across the world as time progresses and Twitter conversation grows.
We can delve into the conversation with metrics that capture a variety of interesting characteristics in each conversation. Looking at Top Hashtags offers useful insights into what people are talking about and how different trends shift from year to year. While the most popular identifier hashtags remain the same, a few new hashtags appear each year, bringing our attention to topics that Twitter users are most interested in.
In 2012, Republicans took command with hashtags like #tcot, top conservatives on Twitter, #teaparty, and #gop earning the top spots. While #tcot has continued to be a popular hashtag, other hashtags have emerged including #jobsnow in 2013 and #opportunityforall in 2014. In 2015 #foxnewschat earned over 51,000 mentions, providing evidence of viewers’ active role in the production of news. Creating a dialogue between political commentators and viewers interested in voicing their opinions on the State of the Union Address, allowed Fox News to expand their share of the conversation and build brand loyalty.
When we look at Top Retweets, we discover another important dimension of the Twitter conversation–humor. While Tweets written by President Obama frequently take the top spots, other contributors include The Onion and prominent figures like scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and actor, Jared Padalecki.
When looking at audience interests, it is not surprising that the conversation would involve a mix of political and pop culture topics. Looking at 2015, which largely resembles previous years, we see that the State of the Union audience is over 1,000 more interested in climate, 813 times more interested in political campaigns, and 84 times more interested in the Affordable Care Act than the general Twitter audience. Interestingly, the interest is Climate, did not distinguish previous State of the Union audiences from the general Twitter audience, highlight a distinct feature of the 2015 conversation.
In addition to a wide array of political interests, members of the State of the Union audience were also 85 times more interested in blogging, 48 times more interested in celebrities, and 15 times more interested in Buzzfeed than the general Twitter audience.
Conversation surrounding the president’s State of the Union address has expanded dramatically over the past four years. Trends in hashtags, mentions, and Retweets highlight a diverse array of topics that contribute to a global discussion. While interests in political subjects are extremely strong, the State of the Union audience is also interested in popular culture and humor, and these have become incorporated into the conversation. Thus, pairing Twitter metrics with audience interests highlights the complexities of the increasingly interactive world of politics and news media.