We’ve been documenting the explosion of the election conversation over the last two months. The three presidential debates alone sparked more than 30 million tweets and public Facebook comments.
That’s a lot of talking. But is the social crowd doing more than just talking? After all, if this is a true conversation, there has to be some listening involved. Are all those tweeters also listening to each other?
In fact, many people only listen in social media. Twitter says 40 percent of its users never tweet. How does Twitter know this? They see these folks signing on and not commenting. They must be going on Twitter to read what others are saying. But determining how much and what they’re reading is a challenge. It’s easy to sign on to a network, then get distracted and leave it open on your screen behind other tasks. Some of the silent 40 percent might not listen very much.
Then there’s the majority that does tweet. How many of them also take the time to read and consider others’ expressions?
There is one way that people reveal they’ve read others’ comments: retweets, or the forwarding of others’ tweets to one’s own followers. Most retweets are preceded by at least a few seconds of reading (the exceptions would be tweets that are blindly retweeted in order, say, to boost someone’s exposure on Twitter). Thus, retweets offer a basic glimpse into how much people on Twitter are taking in others’ points of view.
So we set out to analyze retweet behavior during the debates. And since women in key states are the most sought-after voters in this election, we thought it would be interesting to see if listening habits vary by gender.
As the chart shows, a significant percentage of those who tweeted and posted about the debates also retweeted the remarks of others. The portion who did so ranged from 41% (Debate 2) to 52% (Debate 1). It makes sense that the debate that had the greatest impact on the race would also have the most retweeters. Astounded by what was unfolding, some viewers would have been eager to see if others shared their perceptions, and in certain cases, to share what they’d read. A few of the most widely retweeted comments from the last debate are shown here.
But the real surprise is the gender breakdown: Women retweeted at significantly higher rates than men. In the first debate, there was an 18 percentage-point difference between the two.
Are women just better listeners? Or is there something about this election that’s making them listen more? Perhaps those undecided female swing voters who have gotten so much attention lately are just trying to make up their minds.