Measuring relative opinion from location-based social media: A case study of the 2016 U.S. presidential election

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Zhaoya Gong
  • Tengteng Cai
  • Jean-Claude Thill
  • Scott Hale
  • Mark Graham

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • University of Oxford


Social media has become an emerging alternative to opinion polls for public opinion collection, while it is still posing many challenges as a passive data source, such as structurelessness, quantifiability, and representativeness. Social media data with geotags provide new opportunities to unveil the geographic locations of users expressing their opinions. This paper aims to answer two questions: 1) whether quantifiable measurement of public opinion can be obtained from social media and 2) whether it can produce better or complementary measures compared to opinion polls. This research proposes a novel approach to measure the relative opinion of Twitter users towards public issues in order to accommodate more complex opinion structures and take advantage of the geography pertaining to the public issues. To ensure that this new measure is technically feasible, a modeling framework is developed including building a training dataset by adopting a state-of-the-art approach and devising a new deep learning method called Opinion-Oriented Word Embedding. With a case study of tweets on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we demonstrate the predictive superiority of our relative opinion approach and we show how it can aid visual analytics and support opinion predictions. Although the relative opinion measure is proved to be more robust than polling, our study also suggests that the former can advantageously complement the latter in opinion prediction.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0233660
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2020