The impact of sites like Twitter and Facebook on elections is difficult to measure, in large part because metrics like “fans” and “followers” say very little about how ardent the support for a candidate might be among social media followers. It certainly doesn’t say anything about who among that follower base actually votes.
Anyone can click the “like” or “follow” button, but might not care about the messages being tweeted after that. A candidate whose messages are being scrolled past and ignored is not achieving the success that his “numbers” may suggest. Instead, it is perhaps instructive to examine other data points to get a better picture of the relationship between a political figure’s social media presence and his or her eventual success at the polls.
When it comes to the Republicans still alive in the GOP race, it is clear that Newt Gingrich, with 1.5 million followers, is the Twitter leader. Mitt Romney has a meager 270,000 followers; next is Ron Paul with around 200,000. Rick Santorum seems hardly worth mentioning, lagging behind with only 85,000 followers.
The reality of the situation, however, is that Gringrich’s support is a mile wide and an inch deep, as this article on Gawker seems to confirm.
Twitter has a few ways of digging deeper into the strength of a social media following and not getting too hung up on its size.
Statistics such as average retweets per tweet and retweets per follower indicate how engaged your twitter folowers are with the message and campaign. It’s like going around posting virtual signposts.
For example, despite the fact that Gingrich has more supporters than the next three major candidates combined, he is third in average number of re-tweets per tweet (45). Ron Paul leads with around 80 retweets per tweet and Romney is second at 50.
Retweets per follower tells an even more interesting story. Again, Paul is first, but Santorum is second with Romney and Gingrich third and fourth respectively. In looking at this metric, we see that, although not as many tweets are being retweeted, the [sometimes small number of] followers are dedicated to spreading the message of their favored candidate. This, perhaps more than any other statistic, comes close to quantifying or ranking a candidate’s true level of support.
The more advanced Twitter statistics also seem to back up the claim that Twitter users engage more with Paul, Romney, and Santorum than they do with Gingrich. Gingrich also stacks up poorly in mentions per hour and followers per mention.
Obviously it’s impossible to know how Twitter statistics will correspond to election results, but increasingly, campaign battles are fought via Twitter and Facebook, so an understanding of a candidate’s successes and failures in social media can give insight into how politics might be transformed by the Internet and technology.