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Twitter's Political Engagement Map tracks how people respond to the candidates' tweets

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Romney Obama Twitter Engagement
Romney Obama Twitter Engagement

Twitter has been particularly active this election cycle, offering tweet-based popularity charts of Romney and Obama and selling its first political trending topic. Today, it's added the Political Engagement Map, another effort to harness Twitter's potential as a polling platform. The map is conceptually simple: it takes each recent tweet from Romney and Obama and checks the number of favorites and retweets it's received, then checks location to plot it by US state. Clicking on a given tweet displays where engagement is strong, and entering a keyword brings up the most popular tweets that include it. In practice, seeing a map that's entirely red or blue is initially confusing, but being able to sort by individual tweets and states is a great idea.

It's important not to see the Engagement Map as equivalent to a poll, at least in this campaign cycle. Broadly, there's no guarantee that "engagement" means "agreement," even if replies — where most rebuttals take place — aren't counted. And no matter what the engagement of a given tweet, the results are heavily skewed by Obama's Twitter lead. @BarackObama has about 7,600 tweets and 21.6 million followers, while @MittRomney has only 1,300 tweets and 1.6 million followers, and Romney has tweeted far less frequently during the election. That means virtually every keyword brings up a long list for Obama and a handful of tweets from Romney. As long as you keep those caveats in mind, though, it's a fascinating way to see how well the candidates' platitudes play in real time.