Last spring, Associate Professor of Government Michael Franz asked Christopher Lu ’16 to help him bring together the world of coding and the world of politics.
Franz’s research project looks at how 2014 candidates for the U.S. Senate used Twitter in the last election cycle. He is comparing their tweets with the ads the politicians ran on television.
Lu was taken by surprise by the professor’s request: he had never written a program involving the Twitter’s API (source of data), nor had he ever done an independent project without the guidance of a computer science professor. And the first month was a challenge, Lu admitted. He did a lot of Google browsing and tinkering with the server. However, with the help from Bowdoin’s IT department, after several weeks Lu established the first collection of data and put into place a computer script to collect tweets from Sep. 1 through Nov. 4.
On the eve of Election Day, Lu had gathered over 21,000 tweets from candidates in all 50 states. While he has not been directly involved in the analytical side of the research, Lu has played a role that will be key in the project’s success.