President Obama is winning the stakes in one possibly key and emerging area of public sentiment, as measurements of the candidate’s popularity are high on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and the like.
Obama may be winning social media, but it doesn’t mean the stakes are any less close in the polls, where the incumbent candidate is clinging with all his might to a small edge in most outlets. (Polling has been controversial this election cycle, with Gallup emerging as an outlier in predicting a Romney win and all others reporting a narrow margin lead for the President.)
But on Twitter, Romney trails tremendously — a circumstance not entirely unexpected given the way demographics shake out. While Romney voters tend to be older and more conservative overall, Obama voters are far likelier to represent the youth vote, and embrace all the technologies at their disposal.
The social media election disparity has been a subject of scrutiny in this tight race, and Nicco Mele, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, spoke to Bloomberg about the strong lead Obama has in the realm of social media overall.
Mele points to the force of “sheer numbers” backing Obama on social media sites in general — as a for instance, Obama has clocked 31,134,018 likes on Facebook, miles ahead of Romney’s 10,331,303 likes on the social network. Mele explains:
“Obama is operating at a different order of magnitude than Romney just in terms of raw numbers… We’re effectively in the dark ages of this. The eco- system is just so different and so new. It’s really hard to figure out what is actually going to matter.”
And indeed, Mele is correct to note that the actual meaning of the data strongly favoring Obama has yet to be seen. Whether a larger presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter is anyone’s guess, as the services and their reach into day to day life has increased so dramatically even since the watershed 2008 election of President Barack Obama.
But where Obama has managed to grab an organic, grassroots following on the networks, GOP operatives struggle to catch up in a changing social media news world. Another facet of the phenomenon is occurring right now on Twitter, where the “#hashtagwars” as Bloomberg dubbed them are playing out over the top Twitter Trending Topic, #cantafford4more.
What’s happening now has befallen the GOP again and again as they attempt to promote Mitt Romney via purchased hashtags, hashtags that skyrocket to the top of the Twitter charts at a cost of several thousand or hundred thousand dollars. And while campaign money is going out to promote the trend, many Twitter users are hijacking it to support Obama despite the negative spin on the phrase.
— Richard Hine (@richardhine) October 22, 2012
Polls getting so bad for MittRomney this morning I saw a guy scraping a Romney bumper sticker off his car. It was Paul Ryan #CantAfford4More
— Chris Rock (@chrisrockoz) October 22, 2012
#CantAfford4More conservative Supreme Court justices turning the clock back for women, gays and minorities
— The Daily Edge (@TheDailyEdge) October 22, 2012
— Jason Sharp (@jsharp23) October 22, 2012
And of course, there is Twitter’s reaction to having paid trending topics trend, which often causes users to feel that the promoted item is an attempt to buy their influence or attention:
— cαяℓy (@ShaCarly) October 22, 2012
Lee Rainey heads up internet metrics at Pew, and Rainey explains that while the web is heavy on chatter, the cacophony often drowns out the true message of candidates and fails to provide a clear and accurate barometer of the American electorate:
“People are swimming in a sea of political information and political chatter… The system has expanded because social media is now a very central part of campaign messaging and the way that people are talking about the election.”
But Zac Moffatt, Romney’s social media director, says that his candidate’s strategy is to eschew “vanity” metrics in favor of a clear and consistent message through avenues like Facebook and Twitter. Moffatt explains:
“The goal of our digital team is to be the best team that complements the objectives of the campaign, not to be viewed as the smartest digital entity in the country.”
Social media isn’t entirely a dead zone for conservatives, either — the #tcot hashtag (total conservatives on Twitter) is always popular and boasts many social media luminaries stumping for red state candidates year-round. But their presence often seems dwarfed by Obama’s social media pull, with many celebrities jumping into the fray to support the President.
One factor certain to be underestimated as the final showdown between Romney and Obama looms tonight is the tendency of social media users to caucus with those of like political beliefs. That is to say, if it looks like the election is in the bag for one candidate or the other to you, that’s probably an accurate assessment given you tend to associate with people who have a similar beliefs system.
“Social media is very good at talking to people who agree with you and convincing them to take more actions but it’s really not clear if it’s good at changing someone’s mind… A lot of the activity online is preaching to the choir in order to significantly boost online fundraising.”
Have you been using Facebook and Twitter as an alternative to poll numbers as Obama and Romney duke it out? How are your friends and followers discussing the election this year?