Data-Driven, Complex Systems Model of Public Opinion

Developing a complex systems model of public opinion will have a twofold impact. First, we will provide a framework for a novel conceptualization of public opinion. Contemporary understandings of public opinion rely on the aggregation of individual opinions, e.g., surveys from polling organizations. However, this neglects the influence of interest groups, political and media elites, and social mores, as well as individual variation on dimensions of political knowledge, party identification, ideology, self-interest, group identity, emotion, and salient frames of reference, among others. Using a complex systems framework, we will devise a more multifaceted conceptualization of public opinion, which will yield more fruitful results for questions about public opinion posed by political, non-profit, and community organizations. 

A complex systems approach will also offer fresh insight into the efficacy of computational tools for describing and understanding human behavior. Current methods in opinion dynamics modeling make fatal assumptions about how people formulate opinions and, as such, do not offer much predictive or descriptive utility. Our model will be built on first principles elucidated from social science research and still remain true to mathematical foundations of complex systems thinking. In so doing, we will model a fruitful approach for future collaborations between technical and social scientists.

Chelsea Goforth Research Bio

Chelsea Goforth is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Politics with research interests in Political Psychology, Public Opinion, and Political Behavior in American Politics. This project allows her to advance her research and professional interests by developing a new model of public opinion. It also provides an opportunity for the team to utilize their diverse interdisciplinary experiences toward the development of novel research. Previously, Chelsea worked with the ADVANCE Program and the Bioethics Program at the University of Michigan. She holds bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Sociology and a Master’s degree in Educational Foundations and Policy from the University of Michigan.

Advisor: Dr. Nicholas Winter

Osama Eshera Research Bio

Osama Eshera is a graduate student in the Department of Systems and Information Engineering. He studies complex systems theory and applies it to social networks via agent-based modeling. He is currently exploring the dynamics of opinion formation and dissemination of information in social networks, with the hope of discovering unintuitive insights into the nature of social organizations. More broadly, Osama works on the efficacy of computational modeling in characterizing and predicting human behavior. He hopes this research will catalyze future inquiry into the philosophy of science and complex systems. His bachelor’s degree is in bioengineering, from the University of Maryland.

Advisor: Dr. Gerard Learmonth