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Measuring Urban Attitudes Using Twitter

An Exploratory Study

Justin B. Hollander and Henry Renski

December 2015, English

The goal of this working paper is to introduce a new breed of powerful software tools and social media data that can be used to study the attitudes of people in urban places. In particular, the paper reports on the work of the Urban Attitudes Lab, where a research project experimented with using microblogging data in conjunction with a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, including content analysis and advanced multivariate statistics, to study the urban experience and draw implications for public policy. The research used propensity scoring to develop matched pairs of mid-sized U.S. cities in the Northeast and Midwest, where the most significant difference between each pair is that of population decline. This resulted in a group of 50 declining cities matched with 50 growing/stable cities. Over 300,000 Twitter posts were collected over the course of two-months, each analyzed for either positive or negative sentiment. After running difference of means tests, we found that sentiment in the declining cities does not differ in a statistically significant manner from stable and growing cities. These findings suggest that real opportunities exist to better understand urban attitudes through sentiment analysis of Twitter data.