Using Administrative Records and Survey Data to Construct Samples of Tweeters and Tweets

Adam G Hughes, Stefan D McCabe, William R Hobbs, Emma Remy, Sono Shah, David M J Lazer
Public Opinion Quarterly
August 5, 2021


Social media data can provide new insights into political phenomena, but users do not always represent people, posts and accounts are not typically linked to demographic variables for use as statistical controls or in subgroup comparisons, and activities on social media can be difficult to interpret. For data scientists, adding demographic variables and comparisons to closed-ended survey responses have the potential to improve interpretations of inferences drawn from social media—for example, through comparisons of online expressions and survey responses, and by assessing associations with offline outcomes like voting. For survey methodologists, adding social media data to surveys allows for rich behavioral measurements, including comparisons of public expressions with attitudes elicited in a structured survey. Here, we evaluate two popular forms of linkages—administrative and survey—focusing on two questions: How does the method of creating a sample of Twitter users affect its behavioral and demographic profile? What are the relative advantages of each of these methods? Our analyses illustrate where and to what extent the sample based on administrative data diverges in demographic and partisan composition from surveyed Twitter users who report being registered to vote. Despite demographic differences, each linkage method results in behaviorally similar samples, especially in activity levels; however, conventionally sized surveys are likely to lack the statistical power to study subgroups and heterogeneity (e.g., comparing conversations of Democrats and Republicans) within even highly salient political topics. We conclude by developing general recommendations for researchers looking to study social media by linking accounts with external benchmark data sources

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