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?