From YouTube debates and candidate Facebook pages to breaking news on Twitter, the impact of social media is already well noted by candidates running for political office. But does activity in social media influence voters during an election? As candidates prepare their social media strategies for the 2012 elections, NM Incite took a look back at four races during the 2010 midterm elections to measure the impact of social media on voters.
In three out of four races, the most frequently mentioned candidate on social media won the seat. However, the share of online buzz for each winning candidate was often higher than their percent of votes, demonstrating a strong correlation but not necessarily a causal relationship between social media and election results. For example, in the race for California's Senate seat Barbara Boxer had the most online buzz (55%) but won by a slight smaller margin of votes (52%).
Overall voter turnout during the 2010 midterm election was higher on average compared to prior midterm elections, but buzz doesn’t appear to be a driver of voter turnout. In fact, the two states with higher levels of voter turnout also had the lower levels of online buzz about their candidates.
In each contest, online buzz followed a specific pattern: high buzz immediately following their primaries, followed by a period of fewer social media mentions, and with buzz peaking during the week leading up to Election Day.
Interestingly, when combining the buzz from all four races, conversation about Democrats and Republicans was split equally with each party capturing 50 percent of total buzz. This matched the split in election results, with each party winning two of the four races examined in this analysis.
This analysis looked at 50 days of online buzz beginning 9/14/2010 and ending on election day 11/2/2010 in four statewide races (two senate seats, two state governors) in different states:
Sources of online buzz included: posts on blogs, blog comments, online news sites, video and image sites, message boards/groups, and public posts on Twitter.