Former Senator Rick Santorum may have only lost the Iowa caucus by 8 points, but he is losing the social media primaries by a much bigger margin. According to the latest social media standings, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are the clear front runners in the race for the nomination with Texas Rep. Ron Paul shortly behind and Santorum coming in second to last after former Utah Gov. and Ambassador Jon Huntsman.
Facebook and Twitter played a big role in President Obama’s campaign efforts in the 2008 election, and social networking sites are predicted to play an even bigger role by both parties in 2012. Even in the early stages of the bid for the GOP nomination, obvious correlations can be seen between candidates’ activity on Facebook and Twitter and his/her success in the polls. Social networking trends are becoming an important factor in predicting who wins the GOP nomination and even the Presidential elections.
A recent 2011 study by OhMyGov Inc. Research affirms the statistical correlation between social networking popularity and polling results. As of January 4th, Gingrich topped Twitter with over 1,386,000 followers, and Romney was winning on Facebook with over 1,272,000 fans. Both candidates lead in the latest Gallup poll by 10% as well. Paul is third in the social media line-up with over 681,154 Facebook fans and 259,853 followers across his two Twitter accounts. Paul also maintained his moderate third-place position in the latest Gallup poll and the Iowa caucus.
The OhMyGov Inc. study found a stronger correlation between Facebook “likes” and a candidate’s polling numbers than correlations between Twitter followers and polling results. This holds true for the Iowa caucus results in which Romney came in first and Gingrich in fourth – an exact reflection of their ranks in Facebook “likes.”If there is a strong correlation between a candidate’s popularity on social networking sites and his/her success in the polls, then how did Santorum do so well in Iowa? According to Jennifer Preston of the New York Times, half of Iowans are not on Facebook, so candidates could not solely rely on social networking to win the caucus. While Romney’s strong social media presence allowed him to focus on campaigning in other states like New Hampshire leading up to the Iowa caucus, Santorum made up for a lack of online popularity by building a strong ground presence in Iowa. According to the Washington Post, Romney made only 28 stops in Iowa over 15 days since June 2011 while Santorum spent 75 days making 266 stops across the state. Santorum’s personal approach to relationship building across Iowa’s farmland paid off.
Santorum saw an increase in popularity following his success in the Iowa caucus. His Gallup poll rating went up to 8%, which is double what is was last week, and his super PAC (Red, White and Blue) raised $1 million overnight. Santorum saw an increase in Facebook and Twitter activities online as well; but a few thousand more fans on Facebook is not enough to give him the advantage he will need to beat out Romney and Paul in the rest of the primaries.Santorum cannot rely on the same face-to-face ground campaigning used in Iowa to win the GOP nomination; he simply does not have enough time to do so. Although Santorum’s super PAC is raising more funds and releasing new ads, there is no guarantee that a strong super PAC will translate into more votes. According to Laura Strickler of CBS News, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s $3.7 million super PAC spending leading up to the Iowa caucus translated into only 10% of the vote while Romney’s $3.4 million super PAC spending resulted in only an 8 vote victory over Santorum’s $537,200 super PAC spending. Candidates’ may benefit from super PAC campaigns, but these campaigns can also damage candidates through negative ads made by opposing super PACs.
Santorum’s time and energy may be better spent on building a strong social media presence than a strong super PAC. Voters are turning to social media more frequently for information about candidates. An undecided voter can easily be swayed by a candidate’s social media popularity. The buzz around Santorum following the Iowa caucus may be enough to earn him a moderate outcome in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but if he hopes to secure the GOP nomination, he will need to substantially increase his online popularity, and fast. A candidate without a strong social media presence will not succeed in winning the general election. Social networking is becoming a powerful strategy in election campaigns; although social media cannot predict the outcome of every caucus or primary, it may be able to predict who wins the GOP nomination and even the Presidency.
Feature photo | Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, celebrates his Florida primary election win at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. Charles Dharapak | AP