Political junkies have always known how to snap up the hottest, raw data on their favorite election night races. But this year, anyone with a good digital eye can play that game. Those who want their data unfiltered, uncensored, and hot-off-the-press are going not to the traditional horse racers on the big media outlets, but to the twitterverse.
Social media played a big role in the 2008 campaign, but for the first time on election night 2010, everyday folks are making use of the microblogging service to track instant election returns on Twitter. Now anyone can do as insiders such as Stonehill College political science professor Peter Ubertaccio do.
“It's so much easier for me to get up-to-date news for the exact races I want.... If I want a Massachusetts race where I live I go to that feed on Twitter,” says Mr. Ubertaccio.
His 2010 election night regime includes sitting with his iPad watching the various TV channels. Twitter beats those resources, he notes. “I look at Boston.com and those numbers in those areas don’t come as quickly as people who are at the town clerk offices and various campaign headquarters,” and are tweeting, he points out. So, for instance, with a battleground town such as Plymouth which was crucial for Republicans to win, he was able to find out who won and by what percentage much faster than by looking at a big player such as the Boston Globe online or another major outlet.
Hashtags – the pound sign followed by a term such as "prop19" for the California ballot initiative on legalizing marijuana or "MA10" for the Massachusetts 10th Congressional race – are a key tool for tracking topics of interest on Twitter. “These things are quite organic,” Ubertaccio says, noting that people just start tweeting, using these specific tags “so other folks can locate them.”
Of course, the 140-word universe has its drawbacks. “There is opinion and conjecture and bias, but if you sift through it carefully you can find out what’s going on in real time,” he says. Anyone with a cell phone or computer can tweet, he says, adding with a laugh, “It's not good journalism – it needs to be verified – but for those interested it provides instant, raw data you can't get from traditional outlets.” Ubertaccio says he then turns to those major outlets to confirm the hot-off-the-presses info.