Obama v. Romney on the social media stage: the numbers

New Pew report shows Obama is way ahead of Romney in social media use, but will it equate to votes?

Technology trends and news by Faith Merino
August 14, 2012
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I don’t know when Barack Obama turned into the friend that only emails me to say hi when he’s looking for money, but that’s the friend that Obama has turned into for me.  My inbox is continually flooded with emails from the Obama campaign asking me to give whatever I have--$25, $10, $3.  It’s like some form of presidential panhandling.  But that’s what the man has to do, since his campaign relies more heavily on small donors.

Obama has made a name for himself in grassroots organization, and the results speak for themselves, with 40% of his donors giving $200 or less compared with 15% of Romney’s donors.  When you look at how the two campaigns are reaching out to voters, it makes sense why the makeup of their supporters is so different.  Obama’s 2012 campaign, like his 2008 campaign, relies heavily on social media to get his message out, whereas the Romney campaign is getting more of its campaign dollars from large donors.  The Romney camp is clearly taking pains not to make the same mistake that John McCain made in 2008, but it has a long way to go before it can catch up with Obama.

A new report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism takes a look at how the two campaigns are utilizing social media to rally supporters and finds that the Obama campaign is posting nearly four times as much content as the Romney campaign and is active on nearly twice as many platforms.  Even more telling—the Obama campaign is generating more response from the public, with twice the number of shares, views, and comments on his posts.

In all, Pew researchers found that in the two weeks in which it scrutinized the two campaigns and their social media output, the Obama campaign published 614 posts while the Romney campaign published 168 posts.  Nowhere was the discrepancy more visible than Twitter, where the Obama camp averages 29 tweets a day while the Romney camp averages just one tweet per day.

In terms of content, Romney’s posts tend to focus more on the economy than Obama’s—24% to 19%, respectively—while Romney also devoted about twice the attention to jobs as Obama.  That said, however, Obama’s posts generated much more response from the public.  While his posts on the economy generated 361 shares or retweets, his posts on immigration generated more than four times as many shares, and his posts on women’s issues and veteran’s issues generated three times as many shares.

Additionally, Romney devoted about a third of his posts to attacks on Obama’s policies or actions—about twice as many posts as Obama devoted to attacking his opponent.  

Interestingly, Obama’s posts tended to rely more heavily on text—whether text alone or text with links—while Romney’s posts relied more heavily on visuals, such as pictures, graphics, and videos.

Obama is present on nine different platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Spotify, Tumblr, YouTube, Flickr, and Instagram—while Romney has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, and Spotify.

Obama’s investment in social media has paid off: today, he has more than 27.6 million Facebook friends, 207,000 YouTube subscribers, and over 18 million Twitter followers.  By comparison, Romney’s Facebook page has 4.2 million likes, he has 853,000 Twitter followers, and 14,200 YouTube subscribers.

But social media followers doesn’t necessarily translate to votes.  Howard Dean famously pioneered the use of social media and blogging back in 2004, but one crazy scream at a rally killed his presidential campaign for good.  So come November, we’ll see just how pivotal the use of social media has been to both campaigns.


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