NEW YORK — The 2012 presidential contenders have had a rough go of it on Twitter, according to an analysis of the political conversation taking place on the popular social network.
The study released Thursday by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found Twitter to be a hotbed of opinionated discussion about the campaign. But a majority of the candidates, including President Barack Obama, have received more negative than positive coverage on Twitter than in regular news coverage or blogs.
Twitter has become the go-to hub for topical political dialogue, where opinions are shared in 140-character bursts known as tweets.
Researchers developed a computer algorithm to analyze more than 20 million tweets related specifically to the 2012 race between May 2 and Nov. 27 and determine whether a statement was positive, negative or neutral.
Mark Jurkowitz, the associate director of PEJ, said Twitter's growing importance as a communications tool led to the study.
"Twitter is a significant element of the political conversation and ecosystem in this campaign," Jurkowiitz said. "It's part of the broad democratization process in media, where people who have significant doubts about the mainstream press and are looking for ways to circumvent it."
Among the findings:
_Texas Rep. Ron Paul has been more popular on Twitter than any of the other candidates, even though he's received relatively limited press coverage. Fully 55 percent of tweets about Paul have been positive, the study found, compared with 15 percent that were negative.
_Negative tweets about the rest of the Republican field have outweighed positive tweets by at least a 2-1 margin. Obama has fared even worse, with negative assessments outweighing positive by a 3-1 margin.
_Tweets about three Republican candidates – Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, who suspended his campaign last Saturday – grew increasingly negative since October, the study found. Newt Gingrich, who has surged to the top of many polls in recent weeks, became the subject of more positive than negative tweets the week of Oct. 24.
_Obama far outpaced the Republican field in the number of tweets about him. The Democratic president was the subject of about 15 million mentions, compared with Cain, who was the subject of 2.1 million tweets. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, placed third with 1.5 million. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann was fourth with 1.4 million mentions.
_The study found the language used on Twitter to be "very personal and pungent and even profane ... leveling allegations that would be off-limits in more traditional news coverage."