Study: Twitter view of Akin has not recovered since ‘rape’ comments

One month later, online opinion of Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) has not recovered since his widely condemned remarks about “legitimate rape” in August.

Around 1.5 billion people heard about Akin through that controversial interview on Twitter alone, according to a new report from the social analytics firm Topsy.

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About 6 million people live in Missouri, where Akin is running for the Senate seat against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). Akin’s comments went national shortly after he said that in cases of “legitimate rape,” pregnancy is rare because a woman’s body has “ways to shut that whole thing down.” He staunchly refused to drop out of the Senate race despite requests from his own party’s leaders, a few of whom have come around in hopes that a Republican can take McCaskill’s seat in November.

Akin is still in a tight race with McCaskill, according to recent polls, despite high unfavorability scores. And on Twitter, Akin’s reputation has not budged from a near flatline in public sentiment, according to Topsy.

Tweets about Akin plummeted from neutral to negative on Aug. 19, the day he gave the controversial interview. As of Sept. 1, it had not risen more than 10 points, remaining sharply negative. A score of 50 is neutral and anything below negative, according to Topsy’s analysis; mentions of Akin have not risen above 10 since Aug. 19.

The report from Topsy linked Twitter conversation about Akin to a larger election-year focus on women’s health issues. The white paper analysis released to The Hill finds that discussions about women’s health on Twitter are reaching four times as many people this year as last.
 
Women’s health issues have played a significant role in this election cycle, with Democrats charging Republicans with waging a “war on women” early this year over resistance to certain policies such as the administration's contraception mandate for employers.

The hashtag #waronwomen was popularized by Democrats in early February and is still in use, also popping up in ads and campaign rhetoric. Topsy identified and tracked three significant related events heightening interest on the social network: the decision by Susan G. Komen to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood in February, a decision later reversed; the White House's contraception mandate and subsequent controversy over testimony by Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke; and last month’s Akin comments about “legitimate rape.”

Topsy found that each landmark event provoked thousands of related tweets and each reached more than a billion total Twitter users.

Topsy looked to Twitter with the idea that “the unprovoked opinions of the people themselves would constitute the most ideal and accurate way to understand public beliefs and reactions” on the topic of women’s health as related to the political parties.

The report finds that while recent controversies over women’s health have popularized the so-called GOP “war on women,” that has not necessarily meant a win in public sentiment for the Democratic party.

For every tweet mentioning “war on women,” the paper finds, the average sentiment of tweets mentioning the term “Democrats” became more negative, suggesting but not confirming that the “war on women” has not been good for either party.

But opinion of the Republican Party on Twitter definitely took a hit from Akin’s comments.

“[A]s the number of mentions of ‘Todd Akin’ grew on Twitter this year, the sentiment scores for ‘Republicans’ decreased (became more negative),” according to Topsy’s report.

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