As he heads into next week’s Republican Convention, Mitt Romney is coming off a decidedly bumpy period, including two summer flaps that drew largely negative response in social media. However, the more recent announcement of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate gave Romney a relatively positive social uptick.
The convention will aim to erase Romney’s stumbles from the public consciousness and build on the Ryan momentum. To set the stage for next week, let’s drill down into these three significant moments.
The first was the mid-July controversy over Romney’s tax returns and his decision to release information about just the two most recent tax years. As we noted earlier, an increase in the number of social comments about a candidate is not necessarily good news - it depends on the sentiment of the comments. A close examination of public Twitter and Facebook comments, using algorithm-based sentiment-detection tools backed up by human analysis, shows that the response to Romney’s tax-return controversy was dominated by negative comments. A remark made by Ann Romney on ABC’s Good Morning America came in for particular criticism.
Some viewers heard her use the phrase “you people” in this way: “We’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and how we live our life.” Others, including ABC News, concluded that Mrs. Romney had actually said “all people need to know,” which doesn’t have the high-handed ring of “you people.”
Whatever she said, a new anti-Romney hashtag, #youpeople, took off on Twitter, appearing in about 72,000 of more than 800,000 Romney-related comments posted during this five-day spike. Since then, the tax returns have continued to figure in the campaign.
The second major burst in social conversation was triggered by Romney’s late-July visit to London on the eve of the Olympics, and a comment he made to NBC’s Brian Williams about possible snags in security for the Games. This sparked a largely negative response with its own viral hashtag, #romneyshambles, which originated in Britain. Both the criticism and the hashtag followed Romney to Israel and Poland, where he hit more bumps, but the social reaction was smaller than for the Olympics remark.
Romney’s third big social-media moment, and his largest spike of the summer so far, was the August 11th announcement of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. The majority of the 1.2 million remarks made about Romney from late August 10th (when the story broke) through August 12th were Ryan-related. While commenters came down both for and against the choice, in the context of all social discussion of Romney, the Ryan reaction had higher-than-average positive sentiment.
Most Americans, including those on social media, are just getting to know Ryan, so it’s too soon to draw any conclusions. But during the convention, we’ll learn more about the response to Ryan, who will figure prominently in the TV coverage. So stay tuned.