Tracking Votes to Measure Changing Opinions
A key part of any Ranker list are the votes are associated with each item, counting how often a user has given that item the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. These votes measure people’s opinions about politics, movies, celebrities, music, sports, and all of the other issues Ranker lists cover.
A natural question is how the opinions that votes measure relate to external assessments. As an example, we considered the The Most Dangerous Cities in America list. Forbes magazine lists the top 10 as Detroit, St. Louis, Oakland, Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta, Baltimore, Stockton, Cleveland, and Buffalo.
The graph below show the proportion of up-votes, evolving over time up towards the end of last year, for all of the cities voted on by Ranker users. Eight of the Forbes’ list are included, and are highlighted. They are all in the top half of the worst cities in the list, and Detroit is correctly placed clearly as the overall worst city. Only Stockton and Buffalo, at positions 8 and 10 on the Forbes list, are missing. There is considerable agreement between the expert opinion from Forbes’ analysis, and the voting patterns of Ranker users.
Because Ranker votes are recorded as they happen, they can potentially also track changes in people’s opinions. To test this possibility, we turned to a pop-culture topic that has generated a lot of votes. The Walking Dead is the most watched drama series telecast in basic cable history, with 17.3 million viewers tuning in to watch the season 5 premiere. With such a large fan base of zombie lovers and characters regularly dying left and right, there is a lot of interest in The Walking Dead Season 5 Death Pool list.
The figure below shows the pattern of change in the proportion of up-votes for the characters in this list, and highlights three people. For the first four seasons, Gareth had been one of the main antagonists and survivors on the show. His future as a survivor became unclear in an October 13th episode where Rick vowed to kill Gareth with a machete and Gareth, undeterred, simply laughed at the threat. Two episodes later on October 26th, Rick fulfilled his promise and killed Gareth using the machete While Gareth apparently did not take the threat seriously, the increase in up-votes for Gareth during this time makes it clear many viewers did.
A second highlighted character, Gabriel, is a priest introduced in the latest season of the October 19th episode. Upon his arrival, Rick has already expressed his distrust in the priest and threatened that, if his own sins ends up hurting his family, it will be Gabriel who has to face the consequences. Since Rick is a man of many sins, the threat seems to be real. Ranker voters agree, as shown by the jump in up-votes around mid-October, coinciding with Gabriel’s arrival on the show.
The votes also sometimes tell us who has a good chance of surviving. Carol Peletier had been a mainstay in the season, but was kidnapped in the October 19th episode and did not appear in the following episode. She briefly appeared again in the subsequent episode, only to be rendered unconscious. Despite the ambiguity surrounding her survival, her proportion of up-votes decreased significantly, perhaps driven by her mention by another character, which provided a sort of “spoiler” hinting at survival.
While these two examples are just suggestive, the enormous number of votes made by Ranker uses, and the variety of topics they cover, makes the possibility of measuring opinions, and detecting and understanding change in opinions, an intriguing one. If there were a list of “Research uses for Ranker data”, we would give this item a clear thumbs up.
– Emily Liu and Michael Lee