Political polarization in the United States is at an all-time high.  We see this manifested in everything from the drastic increase in campaign spending in the fight to win congressional districts, to the series of recent government shutdown scares, to disagreements at local PTA meetings.  But political divides are, perhaps, nowhere more apparent than in online spaces, where our filter bubbles—the separate online world that has been tailored for each of us by our social networks and by search engine algorithms that aim to show us what we want to see—keep us awash in information that confirms our views and largely disconnected from opinions that differ from our own.

So it is that average citizens (and even expert researchers) often find it difficult to access and understand the many facets of public opinion.  Graphika has regularly supported grassroots campaigns and consultancies alike in the search to discover influencers and content in niche communities that might otherwise remain hidden in the annals of the Internet.

To illustrate what the world looks like from different political vantage points, here are some insights from a network mapping of the most-connected accounts following any of the US Senators on Twitter.  In this map, we were able to discover 42 distinct communities based on users’ social connections—who they follow within the network and across all of Twitter.

A liberal group in the map of followers of the US Senate, comprised of 9 distinct segments identified algorithmically by Graphika's network segmentation engine.  Nodes are spacially oriented near other accounts they follow.

A liberal group in the map of followers of the US Senate, comprised of 9 distinct segments identified algorithmically by Graphika's network segmentation engine.  Nodes are spacially oriented near other accounts they follow.

A conservative group in the map of followers of the US Senate, comprised of 8 distinct segments.

A conservative group in the map of followers of the US Senate, comprised of 8 distinct segments.

On the conservative side of the map, we find a community (mostly centered in DC) that has been focused for the past month on…

The members of this community have been using hashtags like…

In the past week they’ve been sharing…

Other communities in this map allow us to discover distinctions between Libertarian, Tea Party, Texas Conservative, Boston Liberals, Liberals focused on labor rights, Liberals focused on women’s rights, and many more.

There is little crossover between these communities, both in terms of the specific content they share and the larger media narratives that are discussed.  As is evident from the network of US Senate followers, few people bridge the divide between conservative and liberal.

However, there is hope for common ground.  For some time, it’s been suggested that the current binary political party labels no longer adequately describe the complexity of views represented by politicians and their constituencies.  After all, it was Republican senator Rand Paul who filibustered for nearly 11 hours in May in order to ensure that the Patriot Act expired.  Traditionally liberal union leaders, activist groups, and media outlets recently aligned themselves against President Obama and opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership.  Surveillance, criminal justice reform, and human trafficking have all been issues that have shown that bipartisan support is possible.

All of this means that, in a time when social media has the power to change election outcomes, the 2016 presidential race will be one in which social data and social media strategy are crucial to both parties for effectively reaching the right audience.

Want to know more about what’s happening around political issues, the social landscape in key US states, or insights from industry verticals?  Sign up to request a demo of the Graphika platform.