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How the Presidential Election was Predicted with Social Reach and Sentiment

Conflicting data

First things first: Romney was far more engaging on social media than Obama.  Our analysis found that Romney had 4.5x the engagement rate on Facebook and 18.5x the engagement rate on Twitter. Yet, social media data confidently predicted an Obama win. Read on to learn how Obama won the election on both social media and at the polls. 

Our social world

The 2012 Presidential election illustrated the power of social media, shattering previously-held records for most-talked about events socially regularly. We covered the lead up in our whitepaper “160 Amazing Social Media Statistics from the 2012 Presidential Race,” but wanted to compare our original findings against the election results.

Election night garnered 31 million tweets, peaking at 327,452 tweets per minute when the election was called. It is the most tweeted about event in history. That same night, a picture Obama tweeted and posted broke both the Twitter and Facebook records for most retweets and ‘Likes’, hitting 800,000 retweets within 24 hours and over 4 million ‘Likes’ within a few days.

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Image 1: This image, with the caption “Four more years”, shattered Twitter and Facebook records

How the Presidential Election was Predicted with Social Reach and Sentiment image election1

The important role social media held this election allowed us to analyze the social presence and conversations surrounding both candidates leading up to the November 6th  election, providing information on the overall reach, engagement, and sentiment that favored an Obama win according to the social universe.

Sentiment in social

Obama’s social win was predicted by two factors: the size of his following and the conversations about him, and the sentiment surrounding the candidates. Social insight company Topsy rated social sentiment for Obama at 35/100, with Romney trailing by ~17% at 29. Furthermore, our analysis of the third and final debate rated 31.3% of tweets surrounding Obama as positive, compared to only 18.5% of tweets for Romney. Even when Romney saw an increase in social mentions, such as his September 17th social peak with 927,000 Twitter mentions, the majority of those comments were negative backlash for his comment on “the 47%”. 

Social media: Size does matter

With a combined total of 53.3 million Facebook and Twitter followers during election season, Obama enjoyed much greater reach than Romney with his combined 12.1 million followers. Obama held the advantage of more “social relationships” going into the Presidential election, having built up his social media following with a national audience in his 4 years as President.

Image 2: Obama enjoyed a much stronger social presence throughout election season

How the Presidential Election was Predicted with Social Reach and Sentiment image Election2

To put it another way: well before November 6th, 10% of the country had already expressed an interest in voting for Obama via Facebook, while only 3% expressed an interest in Romney through ‘Liking’ his page. With the inherent nature of social, Obama’s 10% could reach a level of virality much greater than Romney’s 3%, while also influencing conversations surrounding Romney to maximize negative sentiment.

More than Obama’s personal reach with social media, his large following also suggested greater social engagement for Obama even without fans directly interacting with his posts and tweets. During the Democratic and Republican conventions, Obama’s camp garnered far greater engagement on Twitter, reaching 53,000 tweets per minute after his speech versus 14,000 tweets per minute after Romney’s. Even though Romney’s audience engaged more with his tweets, Obama’s audience was larger and more engaged as an aggregate with the entire spectrum of political activity on Twitter, suggesting a higher percentage of active Obama supporters off-line as well. 

Even when Obama’s supporters weren’t interacting with all of his posts, Romney’s mistakes may have acted as catalysts to rile this group up, causing them to share with their networks and create negative virality for Romney, with incidents such as the infamous “Binders full of women” comment spurring reactions like a parody Facebook page that drew almost 300,000 ‘Likes’ overnight. The size of Obama’s social following likely influenced the overall sentiment surrounding both candidates and influencing the election results from multiple angles.

The next four years

Social and digital media played an important role this election, with digital ad spending almost 15x higher than just four years ago according to iMediaConnection. We can only assume that the next election will feature even greater growth, with tablets, smartphones and social media changing the way we communicate and influence each other. For most insightful statistics from the 2012 election, download our whitepaper “160 Amazing Social Media Statistics from the 2012 Presidential Race”.

How did the election affect your personal Facebook and Twitter feeds? Did you find the messaging effective? Did you donate more or less as a result of social media conversations and advertising? Continue the conversation in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter.

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