Leave it to the academics to “prove” a common sense point of view.

Pew Research Center’s March 2013 study titled “Twitter Reaction to Events Often at Odds with Overall Public Opinion,” examines the tone of public response to eight major news events in national polls and in posts on Twitter.

The study finds that the Twitter dialogue differed from the public sentiment.

Findings from the study include:

• President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union was largely well-received by the general public in national polls, with 42% of respondents having a positive reaction and 27% having a negative reaction to the speech, but Twitter conversations were strikingly more negative (40%) than positive (21%).
• In response to a federal court ruling that California’s law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, Twitter conversations were more positive (46%) than negative (8%), though national polls showed 33% of respondents were very happy or pleased with the ruling, while 44% were disappointed or angry.
• Following Obama’s re-election in November 2012, Twitter conversations were more positive (77%) than negative (23%), contrasting with national polls that showed a more mixed public reaction, with 52% of respondents happy and 45% unhappy with the election outcome.

Twitter users are not an accurate representation of the general public because they are considerably younger, more likely to identify with or lean toward the Democratic party, and they do not provide a consistent set of opinions across news events. The study notes that “those who tweeted about the California same-sex marriage ruling were likely not the same group as those who tweeted about Obama’s inaugural or Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan.”

So, what’s this mean for all the fancy new sentiment-mining technology?

Media outlets, politicians, and brands, shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Rather, they should embrace Twitter as a public opinion indicator.

Certainly changes in dialogue can reveal important trends.

The frequency of Twitter posts can also forecast the “intensity” of conversations.

Some new events becomes crises while others are blips, and the amount of early conversation in the Twitterverse can help communications professional gauge what’s worth focusing on.

Editor’s note: Zach Clayton in the CEO of Three Ships Media, a digital marketing company that makes brands “customer magnets” through personalized, localized Internet marketing.