Photo credit: Taylor Simpson on Unsplash

Polly, ASI’s AI-based opinion research tool, has one unique ability that many other research organizations don’t: the ability to go visit the past and find out, retro-actively, how opinions change over time. This allows us to set a baseline at a particular moment in time in order to determine how many “new voices” have been added to the conversation when an event occurs. 

This is particularly useful when looking at the recent controversies involving the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. When it comes to trying to get insights from social media, there is a tendency to observe an “echo chamber” effect, with the same opinions being amplified simply by virtue of the fact that it is easier, on most social media platforms, to agree and amplify the noise than it is to introduce new concepts or arguments.  This is, after all, the internet. 

But because Polly never asks a question, she has the unique ability to glean sentiments over time by observing how people’s thoughts, expressed in social media, evolve over time. In our example, Polly found that discussions about racism increased significantly after the George Floyd case became public; in fact, 53% of the people discussing racism were new to the conversation. In our experience, whenever new voices increase by more than 30% this represents a significant movement in attitude. At 53% new voices, this is a landslide movement in attitudes. 

The discussion about what to do about perceived systemic racism, however, remains nuanced. While 90% of Canadians say that policing needs to change, less than 10 percent of people support the defunding of police forces. We believe the low level of support for such a popular movement is anchored in the fact that the concept of ‘defunding’ a police force represents a simplified approach that few people are ready to buy into until the rest of the plan is fleshed out. 

Among other topics, Polly delved into these past few weeks include Universal Basic Income (UBI), a topic in the news frequently these days as governments deal with massive unemployment and job loss; among Canadians, there is strong support for UBI. 

And Polly heard from people with special needs who are deeply affected by the current COVID-19 situation. Over 80% of people talking about special needs during the crisis are new voices; they urge us to think about the hearing impaired who rely on being able to read lips in order to communique and whose ability to do so is severely curtailed when everyone is wearing a face mask. 

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