The Newseum, located between the U.S. Capitol and the White House, in Washington D.C.

Might at the Newseum

The Evolving Power of Issues in Campaign 2016

by Andrew Heyward and Raphael Schaad

How long was this election campaign, anyway? If it feels like years to you, you’re right; we’ve been analyzing it since the beginning of 2015. So as a public service, we’re about to give you a chance to travel through the 2016 campaign in less than 30 seconds. You can either go to Washington DC, or stick around here.

Let us explain.

Here at the Laboratory for Social Machines, part of the MIT Media Lab, our Electome project uses artificial intelligence to track what we call “The Horse Race of Ideas” — the actual policy issues that shape the race along with the candidates’ personalities and the political process. With access to the full output of Twitter, our algorithms classify all election-related tweets — roughly half a million every day — by topic, candidate, candidate supporters, gender, region, and even civility. This gives the Electome unique insight into how people on social media talk about the election.

One of our favorite tools looks like this:

Clinton and Trump Chat Scans for January 1st, 2016

It’s called the Chat Scan, and it shows the association between each nominee and the most important campaign issues. The Chat Scan only reflects tweets that refer to both the nominee and a specific issue. (More about Chat Scans here.)

As you can see, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had quite different Chat Scans at the beginning of the year: while both were associated with National Security/Foreign Policy, Trump was also closely linked with Race and Immigration, Clinton more with Economy.

But as you can imagine, the Chat Scans change with news events and the flow of the campaign. Take a look at the issue of Guns just before June 12th, the day of the Orlando nightclub massacre …

… and see how both candidates’ association with Guns spiked over the next days.

The candidates’ words influence the role of issues too. Trump’s provocative question to African-Americans — “What do you have to lose?” — brought race to the top of the Twitter conversation in late August.

At various times throughout the campaign, Immigration and Race have jockeyed with Foreign Policy & National Security as top-of-mind issues for the Twitter public. What about the Economy?

Well, remember how different Trump’s and Clinton’s Chat Scans looked back in January? Check out the comparison on October 1st, after the first Presidential debate.

Not only are the scans uncannily similar, but both candidates were closely associated with the Economy as the campaign moved into its final weeks.

The Newseum, in Washington D.C., is now featuring our Chat Scans in its First Amendment Gallery. The interactive display was designed and developed by Raphael at the Lab and with our partners at the museum.

And in case your plans don’t include visiting the Newseum today, this animation takes you through the first 9 months of 2016 in less than 30 seconds:

The Electome team, which is supported by Twitter and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, plans to work with our friends at the Newseum to create an updated installation early next year that allows visitors to explore other issues using this unique technology. Stay tuned — and do touch that dial!

Andrew Heyward is a visiting researcher at the MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines . Raphael Schaad, researcher at the Lab, designed the Chat Scans and museum installation. Soroush Vosoughi and Prashanth Vijayaraghavan, researchers at the Lab, developed the analytics for this post.