Pew Research has conducted a study on what kind of people use Twitter. It turns out that Twitter users aren’t really representative of the American population.
The analysis indicates that the 22% of American adults who use Twitter are representative of the broader population in certain ways, but not others. Twitter users are younger, more likely to identify as Democrats, more highly educated and have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall. Twitter users also differ from the broader population on some key social issues. For instance, Twitter users are somewhat more likely to say that immigrants strengthen rather than weaken the country and to see evidence of racial and gender-based inequalities in society. But on other subjects, the views of Twitter users are not dramatically different from those expressed by all U.S. adults.
It’s important to remember that only 1 out 5 adults (22%) are Twitter users and most of those users aren’t especially active. “The 10% of users who are most active in terms of tweeting are responsible for 80% of all tweets created by U.S. users,” reports Pew. Just to drive home the difference between Twitter and the general public, there are even differences between active and less active Twitter users.
Individuals who are among the top 10% most active tweeters also differ from those who tweet rarely in ways that go beyond the volume of content they produce. Compared with other U.S. adults on Twitter, they are much more likely to be women and more likely to say they regularly tweet about politics. That said, there are only modest differences in many attitudes between those who tweet frequently and those who do not.
One notable finding in the survey is the political tilt toward the left of Twitter users. More Twitter users identify as Democrat than in the general population and fewer Republicans on Twitter identify as GOP than the population. Twitter as a medium gives the impression that Twitter-popular ideas are, in reality, popular when they are not reflected by the general population. More importantly, the people in the Pew survey are adults and not likely voters or registered voters. I suspect if the sample were of registered voters or likely voters on Twitter, the difference between how many Twitter folk identify as Democrat would be even higher, and the number of Twitter users that identify as Republican to be much lower than the American adult population.
The partisan differences in Twitter and real life also hold when examining partisan orientation and age.
These partisan differences between Twitter users and the general public persist when looking across certain age groups. Specifically, nearly two-thirds (63%) of Twitter users ages 18 to 49 identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, compared with the 55% of 18- to 49-year-olds who identify the same way. Among older users, these differences are similar. Some 53% of Twitter users age 50 or older identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, a figure that is somewhat higher than the 47% of U.S. adults in this age group who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party.
And as a warning for those who take their social justice marching orders from what they read on Twitter, “Twitter users as a group express distinct opinions relative to the public as a whole on some political values, particularly when it comes to views having to do with race, immigration and gender.”
Consider this warning for those representing Twitter as a thermometer for the American public.