NEW YORK -- Ron Paul's never garnered as much media attention as other Republican presidential candidates, even after placing second in the Ames Straw Poll and remaining at the top of the pack in Iowa. And when Paul's name does come up on cable news chats, it's often in the context of being unelectable or a fringe candidate.
For Paul, who's long enjoyed a strong following online, the social media conversation has been much kinder than the national media's coverage. Pew's Project for Excellence for Journalism, in a new study analyzing more than 20 million election-related tweets from May through November, found that Paul "fared far better" than any other Republican candidate. Paul was referred to positively in 55 percent of the 1.1 million assessments about him on Twitter studied during this period. Only 15 percent of those assessments were negative, and 30 percent were neutral.
"This treatment of Paul stands in contrast to that of most of the GOP field, for whom Twitter has been a tough neighborhood," the study found. "Five of Paul's seven GOP rivals have had negative opinions on Twitter outstrip positive ones by roughly 2-1 or more."
The "Twitter and the Campaign" study combined PEJ staffers' traditional news analysis -- which factors into each weekly Pew study -- along with Crimson Hexagon's computer algorithmic technology. Clearly, a handful of researchers couldn't comb through the Twitter's public "Firehose" data feed, which includes roughly 140 million tweets daily. So researchers examined a sample of tweets before coding, with the computer picking up on word patterns in tweets to determine if the candidate assessment was positive, negative or neutral.
Although Paul received the most positive response, he wasn't the most talked about overall on the social media platform. Former Republican candidate Herman Cain -- who the study found received the most U.S. media attention of any Republican candidate over the past seven weeks -- came in first with 2.2 million assessments, albeit more negative than Paul's.
Still, Republican candidates didn't get nearly as many assessments as the man they hope to replace. But Obama also faced a lot of criticism from Twitter users. Of Obama's 15 million assessments, the study found that the negative outweighed the positive 3-1. And yet, the study also noted that "Obama's most sharply negative assessment has come from the news media, not social media," echoing a previous study from October.
PEJ's full report, including analysis of how Twitter assessments of candidates differed from the blogosphere and news media, can be found here.