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What is Twitter the reflection of?

July 1, 2013



Tweets on nuclear power and quake recovery abundant, but not reflected in poll: research



Public interest in the nuclear power issue and recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake was adamantly high over the Twittersphere among topics likely to be debated in the upcoming House of Councillors election, analysis by the Mainichi Shimbun and a Ritsumeikan University associate professor has shown.

Meanwhile, respondents to a nationwide Mainichi opinion poll rather valued social security and economic measures as crucial to their voting decisions ahead of the July 21 upper house election.

The analysis was jointly conducted by the Mainichi and Ritsumeikan's Ryosuke Nishida on June 30 as part of collaborative research on online campaigning for the upper house race. The analysis results underscored a gap between opinion poll results and Internet-based public opinion.

According to the telephone poll carried out by the Mainichi, 32 percent of respondents chose "pension, health care, nursing care and child-rearing" as issues important to their voting decisions, while 25 percent cited "economic measures."

Meanwhile on Twitter, there were 29,000 tweets about pension and child-rearing, while 23,000 tweets discussed economic conditions and the so-called "Abenomics" policies promoted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Overall, voices on Twitter were apparently more focused on politically divided issues such as nuclear power rather than everyday-life topics.

In the joint research, 50 keywords were selected from among policy and other themes likely to be discussed during upper house election campaigning. The number of relevant tweets was then tallied by NTTCom Online Marketing Solutions Corp., using the analysis software "BuzzFinder" on June 28 and 29.

Because the parameter of the number of tweets is unclear, it is difficult to quantify tweets on certain topics with percentages. However, the number of tweets on "nuclear power" was by far the most numerous, at 90,000, followed by those on "quake-disaster and reconstruction" at 42,000 and "the Constitution and constitutional amendments" at 31,000. In contrast, only 6 percent of respondents to the Mainichi poll chose "nuclear power and energy policy" as topics important to their voting decisions, while 7 percent cited "recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake" and 6 percent "constitutional amendments."

The number of tweets about the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture climbed to 30,000 over a two-day period last week, following controversial remarks by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama that "it can't be helped if China thinks 'Japan stole' (Okinawa and the Senkakus)." The number of tweets on the Senkakus and North Korea totaled 42,000. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of respondents to the Mainichi poll cited "foreign diplomacy and security policy" as crucial to their voting decisions.

Asked if the lifting of the ban on utilizing the Internet in election campaigning in the upper chamber race will change Japanese politics, 39 percent said yes while 54 percent answered in the negative. The Mainichi poll also showed that 44 percent of supporters of the Abe Cabinet and 32 percent of non-supporters of the current Cabinet answered in the affirmative to that question.

"The opinion poll shows that respondents put more weight on policy measures closely linked to voters' lives such as economic trends, as well as on social security policies including pension, health care, nursing care and child-rearing," said Nishida.

"In contrast, the Twittersphere is characterized by concentrations of tweets on topics that are sharply divided to the left and right, such as the nuclear power issue, security, and constitutional amendments. This can probably be attributed to the fact that the cost for disseminating information is low -- for example, you can easily 'retweet' topics of your concern -- and I assume this is why there arise biases specific to communications via Twitter. I will keep an eye on opinion poll trends during the campaign period and explore characteristics of public opinion on the Internet."


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