Historically, presidential elections have been about hitting the pavement — Democrats and Republicans alike headed from state to state kissing babies and shaking the hands of their core constituency. Candidates secured votes through TV ads and national conventions, where they simultaneously pulled the other candidate’s platform out from underneath him.
Then in 2008, digital campaigning took a commanding, front row seat.
That year, social media played its first significant role in mobilizing voters. President Obama was able to snag his seat in the Oval Office, in part due to his campaign’s strategic Facebook outreach, which targeted the younger demographic.
This year’s social networking efforts have propelled campaigning even further. Both Republican challenger Mitt Romney and incumbent Barack Obama have used Facebook as a vehicle of communication between politician and voter.
At the time of publication, President Obama had 28.7 million Facebook Likes and Mitt Romney had around 7.1 million Likes. Obama’s robust Facebook following has led many to believe the President has honed a particularly astute social network campaign. On the other hand, Obama has used his Facebook page since the previous election, allowing him to build upon an already strong social media support system.
The Republican National Convention helped boost Romney’s Facebook Likes at a much higher rate than the Democratic National Convention did for Obama’s Facebook. Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan combined raked in 2.6 million new Likes during the convention, while the Obama-Biden ticket only grabbed 453,000.
Though overall, the number of Romney’s Facebook fans pales in comparison to Obama’s, it seems the Republican candidate is seeing stronger follower engagement. This past week, only 6.6% of Obama’s fans engaged with the content posted (calculated through Facebook’s “people talking about this” metric). Romney’s Facebook page saw 29.6% fan engagement.
Despite the numbers, Facebook’s open data provides each candidate with a seemingly endless pool of knowledge about his supporters. The 2012 election relies more on big data than ever before — candidates have direct access to their constituencies’ personal information and interests. With that data, the candidates can hone in on how to relate to the people who can vote them into office.
SocialCode, a social marketing solutions company, took a look at that Facebook data to find out what the average Obama and Romney supporter on Facebook looked like, respectively. SocialCode studied the entire pool of 18 and over Facebook users in the U.S., comparing the interests of each group.
SocialCode found that people who supported one candidate over another tended to like certain books, movies, sports figures and TV shows, as opposed to those Facebook users who declared no political affiliations on their social profiles.
Obama’s Likes over-indexed for women, aged 18-44. There were four times as many 18-24-year-olds supporting Obama on Facebook than Romney. And men 35 years old and over were more prominent in Romney’s Facebook group (50% more than Obama’s).
Obama supporters were 12 times more likely to like Powerade, and 17.4 times more likely than non-partisan Facebookers to watch Rachel Maddow. Romney supporters were 16 times more likely to watch Fox News and 9.6 times more likely to drink Maxwell House Coffee. While Obama Facebookers were eight times more likely to read The New Yorker or Rolling Stone, Romney fans were 41 times more likely to read The Weekly Standard.
Occupy Wall Street was popular among the Obama fans, whereas the Tea Party movement was more prominent among Romney supporters. Obama backers enjoy organic food more than the average Facebooker, and Romney supporters eat more Campbell’s Soup.
But the one overwhelming similarity on both sides of the political spectrum? George Foreman Grills. Looks like Mr. Foreman might need to take a swing at politics in 2016.
SocialCode Chief Technology Officer Erik Brauner says that the ability for Facebook to predict a “stereotypical” Obama or Romney supporter is “heartening,” because it shows the site can be used as a realistic mirror of polling numbers. He adds that the candidates can and should use the core demographics to decide how to drive social media content for political applications.