Barack Obama has 21,770,405 Twitter followers. Mitt Romney has 1,694,059.
Barack Obama’s Facebook page has 31,844,875 likes. Romney’s has 11,976,244.
Obama has posted 151 photos to Instagram; Romney: 60.
This year’s presidential race has made elaborate use of social media to connect with voters and advertise campaign points. In response to this increased use, technology companies have developed apps, tools, and widgits to measure social media response and analyze the data to predict the election’s outcome. Twitter has created a Political Engagement Map; Facebook and CNN have teamed up to provide Election Insights; outside media companies have created algorithms like MPG Media Contact’s “electoral football yardage” widget that measures responses on multiple social platforms.
It makes some sense to try to use social media to anticipate voter behavior, because of all the traffic — #debate, #election2012. But in truth, these types of algorithms provide flawed measures, and compile very little useful data on the actual election result.
The fallacy is in assuming that the opinions of social media users are representative of the opinions of all the nation’s voters. Only 56% of Americans have profiles on at least one social media site. [All social media statistics pulled from 2012 Social Habit survey conducted by Edison Research]
Twitter users are also 33% more likely to be registered Democrat, so using a measure of political tweets as a baseline would skew the data in favor of Obama.
In addition, over half of social media users are aged 12-34. This demographic historically has the lowest levels of voter turnout, with less than half of its eligible voters showing up at the polls.
Voters aged 50-70 have the highest levels of voter turnout and also make up the largest percentage of the population, 31%. Yet, only 15% of people in this demographic have social media profiles.
Social media election prediction tools measure the likely voting patterns of the nation’s least impactful voter demographic. These tools place an undue amount of significance on this group’s voting intentions, and misconstrue it with the intent of the nation.
If the social media data gathered thus far can be used for anything, it shows us that Obama is likely to win the majority of those votes of the techno-saavy 20-somethings. Obama understands his appeal to the young voters, and knows that social media is a good way to reach them. The attention his campaign paid to keeping up its social presence definitely helped to swing Internet conversation in his favor.
But perhaps these social media predictors are not meant to predict the election with any sort of practical accuracy. Perhaps they are to illustrate to young eligible voters actively engaged in social media what they could happen if they were to go out and vote and act on their tweets.
We will see on Tuesday whether the candidates’ social media campaigns had any affect young voter turnout.