Do the current presidential candidates make you wanna 😂?

With fewer than three months to go before the 2016 Philippine national elections, there’s no shortage of pundits and pollsters trying to predict the outcome. While traditional surveys are expensive to conduct and typically only reach a few hundred or thousand respondents, there’s emerging interest in figuring out how to use large amounts of freely available data to gauge public opinion.

We at Thinking Machines wondered if we could derive some insight about the Philippine elections from Twitter, where millions of Filipinos willingly share their thoughts and feelings every day. Inspired by The Atlantic’s fantastic data interactive “The Presidential Race in Emojis,” released last December, we decided to track how Filipino Twitter users use emojis when talking about five presidential candidates: Jejomar Binay, Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe, Mar Roxas, and Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Before we dive into the results, a quick word on our methodology. We gathered about 172,953 election-related tweets posted between October 26 and November 25, 2015. Of these, around 116,071 tweets contained mentions of the presidential candidates. For transparency, here’s the list of election-related keywords that we used to harvest the tweets. (Developers, if you’re interested, you can check out our blog post about how we built our Twitter pipeline using Python, Cassandra, and Redis).

Our sample is by no means complete. Twitter puts a cap on how much data you harvest via their streaming APIs, while the imperfections of keyword selection mean you’ll inevitably miss a few tweets while capturing a few irrelevant ones.

And of course, any machine analysis of human language is sorely limited, at best. But we figure it's worth looking into. Plus, just because something is tricky doesn’t mean we can’t have fun taking a whack at it.

Now onto the results!

Top Emojis for All Candidates

116,071 tweets about all candidates

Retweet 44 out of 100 tweets are retweets
😊 5 out of 100 tweets have emojis

Show emoji count of    All Tweets Excluding RT

Top 10 Emojis All Tweets
😂 1181
😊 599
👍 483
👊 210
😒 171
👍🏼 168
Eye Roll 164
😁 162
👈 157
💛 147
Top 10 Emojis Tweets Excluding RT
😂 823
👍 203
😒 137
👊 134
😊 121
😁 103
👏 97
💪 80
👌 77
😭 70

Most internet users are familiar with emojis-- those ubiquitous little pictographs that represent everything from facial expressions, to hand gestures, to actual objects like hamburgers and palm trees. One great thing about emojis is that they make sense no matter what language you speak.

We scanned the tweets for occurrences of any of around 1,604 emojis. We counted emojis in two different ways: 1) based on emojis found in all tweets, and 2) excluding emojis found in retweets.

In the former tally, we counted separately any emojis appearing in retweets of an original message. For example, a tweet containing just one 😊 but retweeted 100 times would add 100 to that emoji’s tally. We figured that’s fair, since retweeting is a way of echoing the sentiment expressed by another person.

Our second emoji count excludes emojis contained in retweets. Counting retweeted emojis can be misleading if many emojis originated from a small number of highly viral tweets. The top 1% most retweeted messages accounted for around 24.5% of all the tweets in our sample. This second count has lower numbers, but covers a wider variety of messages.

By far, the crying-laughing face was the most frequently used, appearing about 1,181 times in all the tweets about presidential candidates. That’s about one 😂 in every five emoji-containing tweets.

That said, 😂 is also the most popular emoji on Twitter, in general. In December, Twitter said that the emoji had been used more than 6.6 billion times on the platform in 2015.

We took a closer look at how people were using these emojis in their tweets. Here's one particularly enthusiastic usage example:

About 26% of the tweets with emojis contained more than one. Presumably, if you choose to use seven (7!) 😂 in your tweet, you must be feeling pretty 😂. So we decided to go ahead and count these emojis individually even if they were in the same tweet.

Top Emojis for Jejomar Binay

8,589 tweets about Jejomar Binay

Retweet 46 out of 100 tweets are retweets
😊 7 out of 100 tweets have emojis

Show emoji count of    All Tweets Excluding RT

Top 10 Emojis All Tweets
😂 226
😒 37
👎 24
😑 24
Middle Finger 21
😁 19
😏 17
😈 14
😡 14
👊 14
Top 10 Emojis Tweets Excluding RT
😂 168
😒 30
😑 21
😡 14
👊 13
😁 13
👎 13
😱 11
😏 11
Eye Roll 10

Binay has the distinction of being the only candidate with Middle Finger among his top 10 emojis, along with similarly irate 👎 and 😡. A number of these angry tweets were posted by TV viewers whose nightly telenovela viewing was interrupted by airings of Binay’s political ad:

Top Emojis for Rodrigo Duterte

58,967 tweets about Rodrigo Duterte

Retweet 35 out of 100 tweets are retweets
😊 3 out of 100 tweets have emojis

Show emoji count of    All Tweets Excluding RT

Top 10 Emojis All Tweets
😂 244
👍 120
😩 107
👊 106
Philippine Flag 91
🎉 88
Hug 85
😁 64
👏 64
👌 57
Top 10 Emojis Tweets Excluding RT
😂 209
👍 90
👊 64
👏 51
👌 44
😁 39
😊 36
🙌 36
😒 35
💪 33

During our sample period, Rodrigo Duterte was the most talked-about presidential candidate by far. In fact, half of the tweets in our whole sample were about him. Most of these were posted on November 24, 2015, just after Duterte had confirmed, finally, that he was running for president. Many Duterte supporters expressed their elation over his presidential bid by using 👍 and 👊 in their reactions to the news.

Top Emojis for Grace Poe

22,650 tweets about Grace Poe

Retweet 47 out of 100 tweets are retweets
😊 5 out of 100 tweets have emojis

Show emoji count of    All Tweets Excluding RT

Top 10 Emojis All Tweets
😂 302
Eye Roll 121
😊 58
😁 50
👍 45
🍃 34
🌲 33
🌳 33
😒 30
💪 26
Top 10 Emojis Tweets Excluding RT
😂 249
😊 36
👍 33
😒 29
😁 27
😭 17
💪 16
😍 16
👌 14
😄 14

In tweets about Grace Poe, we were surprised to find three of the top 10 emojis were plants. Curious, we investigated and found this:

This particular tweet got retweeted and favorited by some of the 11,400 tweeps following @HalamansofMNL, a novelty Twitter account self-described as: “Walang feelings, walang emosyon... Pero minsan kailangan diligan.”

Tweets about Senator Poe spiked on November 17, the day the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) junked a petition to disqualify the senator from the presidential race on the basis of her citizenship. Grace Poe supporters responded with a lot of toothy smiles on Twitter:

Top Emojis for Mar Roxas

21,762 tweets about Mar Roxas

Retweet 63 out of 100 tweets are retweets
😊 10 out of 100 tweets have emojis

Show emoji count of    All Tweets Excluding RT

Top 10 Emojis All Tweets
😊 472
😂 436
👍 243
👈 153
👍🏼 144
💛 142
👎 92
Yellow Ribbon 88
😍 79
😒 60
Top 10 Emojis Tweets Excluding RT
😂 220
😒 48
👎 46
👍 36
😊 35
👊 25
👏 23
😑 20
😡 20
😁 20

Tweets about Mar Roxas were more likely to contain emojis and more likely to be retweets than tweets about any other candidate.

We also noticed that Mar Roxas was the only candidate for whom 😊 (and not 😂) was the the top emoji based on all tweets. But this particular tweet, posted by a #KathNiel fan with over 20,000 followers, shows that just because a tweet uses a smiley doesn’t mean it’s positive.

The bored face 😒 was also among Roxas’ top emojis because of some Twitter users' less-than-impressed reactions to Daniel Padilla’s endorsement of the Liberal party candidate.

Top Emojis about Miriam Defensor-Santiago

13,737 tweets about Miriam Santiago

Retweet 54 out of 100 tweets are retweets
😊 8 out of 100 tweets have emojis

Show emoji count of    All Tweets Excluding RT

Top 10 Emojis All Tweets
😩 99
Philippine Flag 93
👍 88
Hug 80
🎉 80
😂 77
👊 57
💪 52
😁 47
🎩 39
Top 10 Emojis Tweets Excluding RT
😂 57
👍 50
👊 38
💪 34
😁 27
😊 22
Philippine Flag 22
👏 21
🙌 15
👌 13

A number of Miriam Santiago fans used the 😩 and Philippine Flag to express frustration with having to choose between the senator and Duterte:

While over 93% of the tweets in our sample mentioned only one presidential candidate, around 7% or 8,287 tweets mentioned several candidates at the same time. Appearing together in 2,686 tweets, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Rodrigo Duterte were the two candidates most frequently mentioned in the same tweet. The next most popular pairings were Duterte-Poe (2,640 tweets) and Binay-Poe (1,242 tweets). In such cases, we went ahead and counted the emojis used towards both candidates.

So what does it all mean?

What did we learn from analyzing these emojis? It’s hard to say. One thing’s for sure -- figuring out how someone feels about a topic by looking at what emojis they use is hardly cut-and-dry. A seemingly innocent 😊 can be used with as much venom as a 😡. A 👊 can just as well be a fist-bump or a punch in the face. And with a bit of humor, there’s no reason why 🌵,👽, or 🎶 don’t belong in tweets about politics.

Using emojis to measure meaning is about as simple as choosing a presidential candidate. In the end, you’re not sure whether you want to 😂 or 😂.

Did you find this interesting?

Read our second blog post about this data set: "Voters or Robots? Evaluating the Twitter popularity of the presidential candidates."

Disclaimer: By the way, if you couldn't see some of the emojis in your browser or phone, sorry about that! Emojis aren't properly supported for all browers. We used Twitter's open-source emoji library to make them as accessible as possible, but some readers might not be able to see everything.

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