Social Media’s Role in the 2012 US Election: Obama Breaks Twitter Records

By Matt Foulger • 1 year ago • 22 Comments

Election Tracker Header

It looks like President Barack Obama won in more than one way yesterday. The Democratic incumbent not only locked down a second term at the ballot box, but also finished his campaign as the undisputed victor of the social media battle with his opponent, Governor Mitt Romney.

During the home stretch of this year’s campaign, HootSuite’s 2012 Election Tracker showed political junkies just how well each of the two presidential candidates were faring on social media.

Yesterday, as election-related activity on Twitter and Facebook reached a fever pitch, Obama leaped ahead of Romney on the Election Tracker and into the social media record books. Obama practically wrote the social media playbook for politicians during his 2008 campaign, mobilizing millions of supporters to defeat Hillary Clinton, the favorite for the Democratic nomination, and then Republican John McCain in the general election. Unsurprisingly, he began his reelection effort with a huge edge in support on social media.

Even as the race tightened in the closing weeks of this year’s campaign, President Obama maintained a substantial lead in both Facebook likes and Twitter followers over Governor Romney. By the end of the campaign, Obama had 22.7 million followers and 32.2 million likes, compared to Romney’s 1.8 million followers and 12.1 million likes. HootSuite’s Election Tracker showed that Twitter mentions of @BarackObama and @MittRomney remained much closer, however. During the debates in October, @MittRomney’s mentions surged along with his noticeable bump in the polls.

Election Twitter Mentions Nov 7, 2012 12:27AM
Election Twitter Mentions – Nov 7, 2012 12:27AM

Twitter Sentiment

For the same reason political scientists poll for approval rating, not just name recognition, HootSuite’s Election Tracker monitors more than just how much social media attention the candidates have generated. The Election Tracker reveals how social media users actually feel about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, with Twitter sentiment analysis powered by Lymbix, a global leader in sentiment analysis technology. Lymbix has relied on both natural language processing and crowd-sourcing to create a tool that can hear the nuances of tone in human language. Lymbix’s engine goes beyond the typical positive/negative categorization to measure the intensity of eight specific emotions, giving our Election Tracker two very colorful pie charts.

Since we launched the Election Tracker, both candidates’ charts have been predominantly green, showing more affection, elation, excitement and gratitude than sadness, anger, fear and shame. However, there were always noticeable portions of “Fear/Uneasiness” tweets for both candidates, hinting at just how worried both Republicans and Democrats were about the prospect of defeat.

Throughout Tuesday, the Barack Obama chart was very green, with a high proportion of his positive Twitter mentions marked “Enjoyment/Elation”. Clearly, his supporters were expecting a victory. In the mentions category, @BarackObama pulled away from @MittRomney as hundreds of thousands of tweets flooded Twitter. After major news organizations called the election for the president last night, his campaign posted an image of Barack and Michelle Obama in a loving embrace, accompanied by the message, “Four more years.” The image has set two social media records already, receiving more Twitter retweets (700,000) and Facebook likes (3.5 million) than any other post in history.

Mitt Romney Twitte Sentiment
Mitt Romney Twitter Sentiment – Nov 7, 2012 12:27am

In the immediate aftermath of an unfavorable election result, the emotional letdown for Governor Romney’s supporters was evident in @MittRomney’s sentiment chart. Late last night, the largest segment of his chart was “Sadness/Grief”. However, by Wednesday morning the most prevalent emotion in Romney-related tweets was “Contentment/Gratitude”, suggesting an outpouring of thankfulness from his supporters for his service in a long, hard-fought campaign. [clear]

The 2012 US Election Tracker was built with HootSuite Command Center. Learn more:

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Author: Matt Foulger

Matt Foulger has written 52 posts for the HootSource blog..

Matt is an Enterprise Marketing Writer at HootSuite. He writes research reports and features for the HootSuite blog.

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9 comments
Shiful Alam
Shiful Alam

Barack Obama has fantastically utilized the popular most platform in the world. Social Media is the easiest way to interact with the audiences and Obama has used it for his reelection campaign. Really good.

Thanks for the analysis.

Raphael
Raphael

Thanks for this information. Greetings from Germany. :)

Marian Veriga
Marian Veriga

That’s a great infographic, Frank. President Obama faces a highly competitive bid for re-election. Economic growth has been tepid throughout his presidency, but one of his biggest advantages is that he has a variety of paths to victory in key battleground states. The president’s central argument for re-election is built around fairness and pushing back against the assertion that he is not up for the job and could not improve economic circumstances in a second term.

Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson

This highlights another trend helping the Democrats, along with the growing Latino vote, Obama's dominance with under 30s etc. I don't think it is a coincidence that they are winning the social media battle as well.

Mark Collins
Mark Collins

Social media is definitley something that is affecting all walks of our lives. It's clear that this includes the U.S. election. Did you see this prediction from another Canadian company called Jugnoo on Obama winning?

http://blog.jugnoo.com/obama-to-win-election-republicans-to-win-senate-and-hold-house-infographic/

I wonder how much normal elections will still be valid in years to come.

Matt Foulger
Matt Foulger

Thanks for the link, Mark! It seems like it's still quite difficult to predict elections based on social media, even with all the strides that have been made in sentiment analysis and other applications of Big Data. In elections, geography and demography are vital to making predictions. It seems like it would be tough to predict which party would win the Senate without breaking the contest down state by state, and when you do that you get much smaller samples of data from social media. Stats guru Nate Silver has shown how accurately someone can predict elections if provided enough information, but he had thousands of previous scientific polls upon which to build a predictive model, and then hundreds of polls during this cycle to plug into his algorithm.

In my opinion, there's just not enough social media data out there to use for predicting elections yet. I don't think that diminishes the political importance of social media at all -- it's current value is that it can influence voters' opinions a great deal and it's a good organizing tool for political campaigns. But perhaps political scientists will soon have enough data from this election and others to at least incorporate it into their models for future predictions, which already include scientific polls, census data and all the other information available.

Frank
Frank

Mashable provided a pretty in depth financial account of how much each party spent in the race for presidency. The information that Mashable provided coincides with the information you reported above. The next race for the white house will really be social media driven for sure. Here is the Mashable link http://ow.ly/f5aIW

Matt Foulger
Matt Foulger

That's a great infographic, Frank. The campaigns spent an astonishing amount of money this cycle and it's interesting to see how much of that was online. Considering that a presidential campaign burns through $2 billion now, we can only expect the online ad buys to increase. In September, our CEO Ryan Holmes wrote about Mitt Romney's $120,000 splurge on a "promoted trend" on Twitter. Obama may have written the social media playbook in 2008 but that playbook continues to change as campaigns recognize new opportunities.

Cheers.

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