Public Response to Obamacare on Twitter

Matthew A Davis, Kai Zheng, Yang Liu, Helen Levy
Journal of Medical Internet Research 2017 May 26, 19 (5): e167

BACKGROUND: The Affordable Care Act (ACA), often called "Obamacare," is a controversial law that has been implemented gradually since its enactment in 2010. Polls have consistently shown that public opinion of the ACA is quite negative.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of our study was to examine the extent to which Twitter data can be used to measure public opinion of the ACA over time.

METHODS: We prospectively collected a 10% random sample of daily tweets (approximately 52 million since July 2011) using Twitter's streaming application programming interface (API) from July 10, 2011 to July 31, 2015. Using a list of key terms and ACA-specific hashtags, we identified tweets about the ACA and examined the overall volume of tweets about the ACA in relation to key ACA events. We applied standard text sentiment analysis to assign each ACA tweet a measure of positivity or negativity and compared overall sentiment from Twitter with results from the Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll.

RESULTS: Public opinion on Twitter (measured via sentiment analysis) was slightly more favorable than public opinion measured by the Kaiser poll (approximately 50% vs 40%, respectively) but trends over time in both favorable and unfavorable views were similar in both sources. The Twitter-based measures of opinion as well as the Kaiser poll changed very little over time: correlation coefficients for favorable and unfavorable public opinion were .43 and .37, respectively. However, we found substantial spikes in the volume of ACA-related tweets in response to key events in the law's implementation, such as the first open enrollment period in October 2013 and the Supreme Court decision in June 2012.

CONCLUSIONS: Twitter may be useful for tracking public opinion of health care reform as it appears to be comparable with conventional polling results. Moreover, in contrast with conventional polling, the overall amount of tweets also provides a potential indication of public interest of a particular issue at any point in time.

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