Does Social Media Buzz Actually Win Elections?

social media politicsWes Green, one of the faithful readers of the Nones Notes Blog, posed a question as part of a comment on my recent post about the disconnect Gallup has observed between social media marketing promise and reality.

Wes’ question asked to what degree social media activity actually decides U.S. elections.

In other words, is social media “buzz” enabling campaigns to win elections that would have been won by a different candidate otherwise?

If you look at the sheer volume of YouTube posts, Facebook pages and sharing of breaking news on Twitter that’s being pushed out there by political campaigns, surely they must think that these social platforms are having an impact.

But what about a more scientific look into it?  I searched around for answers and found one such analysis.

Shortly before NM Incite, a social media intelligence joint venture of Nielsen and McKinsey, was shut down in 2013, it had looked at precisely these dynamics through the prism of the U.S. federal election campaigns of 2010 and 2012.

Here are two important pieces of data NM Incite uncovered:

  • Observation #1: In three out of four election campaigns, the candidate who was the most frequently mentioned on social media was the one who ultimately won the election.
  • Observation #2: The share of online “buzz” for each winning candidate was higher than the share of votes the winner actually won.

These two observations raise the next question: Is there a “causal” relation between social media presence and positive results on election night?  These findings don’t tell us that.

Instead, it may be that winning candidates are doing a better job at more than merely social media to win their races.  Their campaigns are just better organized and more adept at hitting on all cylinders.

Here’s one other finding from NM Incite’s evaluation that suggests that social may be an ornamentation and not the tree:  States with higher levels of voter turnout tend to be the ones with lower levels of online buzz about their candidates.

So there’s little evidence to suggest that social media buzz is generating higher voter participation.

I’d say we need more research on this topic. It’s a rapidly changing environment, no doubt.  An analysis that dates back to 2010 and 2012 is like a lifetime in online political campaigning.  Has anyone come across any newer research?

Get Ready for the Endless Political Campaign …

New forecasts about political advertising have just been released. They confirm what many of us have suspected: The political campaign season, traditionally defined every two years by the presidential and off-year congressional election contests, is morphing into one gigantic mega-campaign that basically is with us all the time.

Instead of the nice breather we used to get from political advertising after the campaign season ended, it’s becoming one long, never-ending experience — some would say nightmare.

And if this surprises you, consider the past year alone in U.S. politics. First, there was the inauguration and the early fight over the economic stimulus package, with many political ads run pro and con.

This was followed by the health care debate which attracted an even bigger volume of advertising – probably because there were even more special interests involved. That initiative also sparked the Tea Party rallies and town hall meetings, which became fodder for still more political posturing (and paid advertising).

In the midst of the health care debate, along came the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as the “circus sideshow” in Upstate New York’s special congressional election where the Conservative Party candidate forced the endorsed Republican from the race – another opportunity for all sorts of campaign spending.

And just about the time the health care debate finally came to a vote in Congress … the Christmas Bomber shows up – still more fodder for paid political advertising, this time on national security.

As the year 2009 ended, when we thought we were over with politics for at least a few short months, out of nowhere comes the Massachusetts special election for senator that attracts millions of dollars per day in contributions over the Internet and sparking – you guessed it – beaucoup bucks in paid political advertising.

And this past week, when the exciting Superbowl and extreme weather events should be dominating the news, what’s prominently on our TV and cable channels as well? The Tea Party convention in Nashville, capped by an announcement that this group is forming a campaign political action committee to raise millions in funds to — of course — run new candidates for office.

More politics … more money … more advertising.

Of course, all of this is great news for local television and cable stations, which can snap out of their torpor and pocket a ton of new dollars in advertising revenues. In fact, media research and analytical firm Borrell Associates is predicting that U.S. political spending of all stripes will hit a record $4.2 billion in 2010.

Helping this along is the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lifts restrictions on corporations and gives them the freedom to buy political advertising. Borrell estimates that this ruling will add ~10% to the total pool of funds this year.

It seems hard to believe that 2010 – a non-presidential election year – is on track to break 2008’s record for political spending, considering the huge amounts of advertising that were done by the McCain and (especially) the Obama campaigns in 2008. But the prognosticators insist 2010 will be the biggest year yet for political spending … to the tune of $1 billion more than in 2008.

What role does online play in all of this? The Internet is expected to account for less than $50 million in advertising revenues in 2010 – a comparable drop in the bucket. But growth will be very strong in this segment – not least because the web does a very good job of bringing in more campaign donations! The bottom-line prediction: Internet advertising will likely double to reach $100 million for the presidential campaign in 2012.

So the endless political campaign continues endlessly on … never ending … world without end. What fun for us!