Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted! The last few months has been absolutely crazy, with visiting family members, paper deadlines, and end-of-semester tasks. I did hit a major milestone: I have officially completed all my coursework for my Ph.D!
Today, I want to focus on my part-2 analysis of the WI election, which I am informally calling, “If you want to know who will win gubernatorial elections first, follow local journalists.”
The figure below is a plot of tweets about Scott Walker and Tony Evers on the night of the Gubernatorial Election (12 a.m. to 2 a.m.). [For more about the data collection, please see the post below].
The Big Picture
The first vertical line represents the first tweet in my dataset that called a win for Evers. This came from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Mary Spicuzza, who tweeted out at 12:53 a.m. CST (apologies; my timestamp is not adjusted for daylights saving).
While there was an increase in the number of tweets after Spicuzza’s, it didn’t reach full attention for another hour and a half, when it was officially reported by the Associated Press at 1:25 a.m. Attention, measured by counts of tweets with the word Walker or Evers, spikes not long after this tweet.
What happened in that window of time, the half hour between when it was officially reported by the Journal Sentinel, and when it was reported by the Associated Press?
A Twitter Conversation among Wisconsonites
Unsurprisingly, most of the tweets from this time appeared to come from Wisconsin residents, or people with ties to Wisconsin (as indicated by their geographic information, or by information in their profile, such as being an alum of a UW-System school. One tweet from a self-reporting Wisconsonite said, “Tony Evers (D) now up over Scott Walker (R) by just over 1,000 votes out of 2.5M votes cast. #WiGov”
There were also many references to local media outlets, as seen in the examples below (which were also retweeted by mostly Wisconsinites):
“Looks like @tmj4 just reported live from the courthouse that 38,000 votes just went to #tonyevers when @cityofmilwaukee votes we're tallied. I'm calling it. Tony Evers defeats Scott Walker as the next govenor.of #Wisconsin. Boom. https://t.co/0Y1cObTwy!” - RyanThompson
There were also many references to local Wisconsin issues, such as Walker’s rampant Union-busting, or his gutting of education funding (this was mentioned by both people in Wisconsin and those outside of Wisconsin, though the former had an obviously greater attachment):
”Fingers crossed that my great home state of Wisconsin has finally rid themselves of the Union-busting, education-destroying, Foxconn swindling corporate shill that is Scott Walker. But I won’t believe he’s gone until every vote is counted” - @sjtruog (1:17 AM)
“Wait did Scott Walker actually lose? Bc I hate him with such a particular acid for what he did to public education in that state that I want to know if I can dance a mad tarantella on that smug prick’s career grave” - @meganskittles
One of the things I really enjoyed about these tweets were their continual cultural references to Wisconsin. Because tweets during this time were predominantly written by Wisconsonites or those with ties to Wisconsin, there were many tweets referencing things like Menards, as noted above, Culvers, and the Packers).
“I've been this proud to be a Wisconsinite three times: when Favre won a Super Bowl, when Aaron won a Super Bowl, and when we voted melty-faced suffering-horny human khaki Scott Walker out of office.” - @meg_luvs_pandas (1:24 AM)
“If Tony Evers beats Scott Walker that would be the most Wisconsin shit that ever happened since Culver’s showed up.” - @Joe_Bowes (12:53 AM, Milwaukee, WI)
“Can someone tell me if Scott Walker is going to have to get a job at Menard's so I can go to bed.“ - @JustinLaughs (1:07 AM, from Greendale)
Another noticeable feature of this language was the use of the pronoun “we” to refer collectively to Wisconsinites.
“are… are we finally getting rid of scott walker [?] is it happening [?]” - @AlexZiebart (12:55 AM, Milwaukee, WI)
“I’m so nervous to see who won governor in wisconsin […] we need Scott walker out of office!!!” - @taypyt (12:55 AM)
“My final political tweet for the evening: if we have really finally done it, nothing has given me more pleasure than to vote against Scott Walker in five different elections. Bye Felicia” - @alephtwo (12:58 AM, Madison, WI)
The use of this “royal” we (“state-wide” we?) instills the idea of a collective identity that is directed towards the voting out of Walker from office. It evokes a sense of solidarity, or “survival” from Walker’s terms in office.
Outsiders looking in
A few outside of the WI gate were able to tap into this information, as indicated by this tweet from VA resident: This is one of the most unbelievable finishes I have ever seen. Came down to a bunch of uncounted absentee ballots. Looks like Scott Walker is done. https://t.co/D8VwrxGZOk.” - @junkiechurch, (12:57 AM)
Those in close proximity to the Wisconsin appeared to be more attentive as well:
“No more Scott Walker. Wisconsin, I tease you all the time, but you did a good job today.” - @KyleWarner3000 (1:16 AM, DeKalb, IL)
However, many (presumably) outside of Wisconsin expressed frustration about wanting to learn more:
“DAMNIT CNN SHOW ME THE SCOTT WALKER RACE“ - @Seattle_9 (1:12 AM, Seattle, WA)"
“Wait did Scott Walker actually lose? Bc I hate him with such a particular acid for what he did to public education in that state that I want to know if I can dance a mad tarantella on that smug prick’s career grave “ - @godhatesyeast (1:13 AM, USA [no state indicated])
It was about Walker losing, not Evers winning
As seen by the figure above, attention was squarely focused on Walker losing, rather than Ever winning. This suggests that Twitter communities perceived the election as a victory because Walker lost, not necessarily because Evers won. Many of the tweets were focused on insulting Walker.
”EAT MY ENTIRE SHIT COTT WALKER” - @ChiYoungMoon (12:59 AM)
“Good bye Scott Walker you trifling ham and cheese eatin' bitch https://t.co/ODW3kMWPhC“ - @jae_dubb (1:09, Chicago)
In situations where Evers was referenced, it was often because he (having been a teacher) made an ironic foil to Walker.
“Scott Walker loses thanks to a Milwaukee wave. What a night. Couldn't happen to a more deserving guy. https://t.co/2KEDdpeNAe3” - @Save_the_Daves (1:15 AM, Milwaukee, WI)
In the above instances, Evers is celebrated but not explicitly mentioned. Walker, by contrast, is referenced in full name. In the first tweet, by @Bro_Pair, Evers is framed as a “kindly teacher”, the kind of person who was directly impacted by Walker’s economic policy. The expression of joy (“glad I stayed up late enough…”) reflects a sense of schadenfreude—taking pleasure in watching Scott Walker lose. This sense was expressed by many others…
“It looks like Scott Walker might lose to Tony Evers. Don’t go to bed or you might miss the best schadenfreude of the midterm elections.” - @RiskyLiberal (1:23 AM)
“Seeing Kris Kobach and Scott Walker lose is pretty sweet, but my schadenfreude dream team was Ted Cruz and Steve King “ - @antitractionist (1:23 AM)
… and sometimes in bizarrely sexual references.
The Recount Topic
Tweets about a recount appeared as early as announcements about the Milwaukee absentee ballots. Many tweets were written by conservative-identifying or MAGA-identifying accounts.
(R) Scott Walker, WI gov, is requesting a recount.” - @AKLLL49 (1:20, Profile: Love our @POTUS […] PHUCK #Grammernazis #Haters of #Guns and #Freespeech. #MAGA)
“Both sides expect protracted recount in Wisconsin governor's race between Scott Walker and Tony Evers https://t.co/ilCQHR8KUT” - @jackiebullivant (1:22, Profile: Conservative, business owner & political enthusiast. We need honest, authentic gov’t FOR and BY the people b/c people matter! Free speech. #MAGA #PPC2019)
“Governor Scott Walker's campaign has announced plans to call for a recount, should Evers come out on top. Either candidate can call for a recount if the results come in within 1%.” - @KFIZ1450 (1:03 AM, Fond du Lac, WI)
One was pretty sure Walker was going to win:
“Hey look on the bright side at least we still have Scott Walker and Ted Cruz.” - @johnforchione (12:57 AM)
By 1:23, there were already (mostly liberal) rebuttals to a call for a recount, with many pointing out (ironically) that Walker had pushed for the bill that now prevented him from calling a recount.
“Tony Evers defeats Scott Walker by 1.1%! Outside of the margin for a recount that Scott Walker passed into law for a recount. Karma is a bitch!” - @Fetzer2 (1:23 AM)
What can we learn from this analysis?
1) If you want to know who wins a state-wide election, follow local reporters. They have the greatest level of access to updated voting information, and are much more knowledgeable about their geographic region than national news outlets.
2) In a media environment that focuses on one event, or what researchers would call a media storm, “liberals” and “conservatives” respond to each other very quickly, within the span of a few minutes. Given the hybrid nature of the U.S. media system, it is likely that media storm dynamics will impact social media, particularly Twitter(as a platform for professional journalism). Capturing this dynamic in media storms, therefore, requires very granular levels of data.
3) To understand the politics, one needs to understand the culture of that society. Regional cultural references were an important feature of this discourse, which was unique compared to the post-AP tweet time span. In this latter time, tweets were still focused on Walker’s loss (rather than Ever’s win). However, following Associated Press’ reporting, the tweets were predominantly by those outside of Wisconsin. The story was reaching national attention, and the discourse had lost this specific local component.
Overall, this was an interesting project for me to examine how a state-wide political event goes national on Twitter in an hour and a half.