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Barack Obama Beating Mitt Romney in Social Media Popularity

Barack Obama Mitt Romney Twitter Followers Split - H 2012
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Barack Obama, left, and Mitt Romney

While the president has more Twitter followers and Facebook likes, neither candidate is particularly interactive on social media, according to a new report.

If Twitter followers and Facebook likes were a measure of electability to the highest office in the land, the contest would already be over. Mitt Romney’s official Twitter account has about 852,000 followers compared to more than 18 million for Barack Obama.

And not surprisingly, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the Obama campaign is a more prolific poster of content -- posting four times as much content as the Romney campaign -- and is active on nearly twice as many platforms.

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The report analyzed content and volume of candidate communications on their websites and social media channels from June 4-17. According to PEJ, “the digital gap between the campaigns was the greatest on Twitter. The Romney campaign averaged 1 tweet per day while the Obama campaign averaged 29 tweets, 17 per day on @BarackObama (the Twitter account associated with his presidency) and 12 on @Obama2012 (the account associated with his campaign). Obama also had about twice as many blog posts on his campaign website than did Romney and more than twice as many YouTube videos.”

Additionally, the Obama campaign had accounts on nine platforms: Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Spotify and two accounts on Twitter (@BarackObama and @Obama2012). The Romney campaign had accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Google+. And more recently, Romney has expanded his presence to Tumblr and Spotify.

As the incumbent, Obama obviously had a head start in the social media race. In 2008, the campaign used the web to raise more than half a billion dollars, much of it in small donations; the average online donation was $80.

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“For Obama, the Internet was very important in 2008 to mount an insurgent campaign -- a campaign of the people -- and a way to raise money outside the party establishment,” PEJ director Tom Rosenstiel said. “That’s clearly not where he is now. He is the party establishment. So the role of digital media and social media becomes different for him.”

With the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the Super PACs have overwhelmed small donor giving. And social media has evolved into a tool to communicate directly with potential voters. To that end, the report found that the Romney campaign was twice as likely to talk about Obama (about a third of his content) as the president was to talk about his challenger (14% of his content). And not surprisingly, the economy was the No. 1 issue for both candidates, with Romney focusing on jobs and Obama focusing on “the importance of the middle class and competing visions for the future,” according to the report.

“In conventional terms if you’re Mitt Romney and you can make this election about Barack Obama, you might have a better chance of winning,” Rosenstiel said.

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But both candidates are using social media to activate their respective bases, though Obama’s base may be more digitally inclined. 

“It will be a test to see how far that technology will take you," he added. "If you win in social media, do you win? I don’t think we know that answer.”

Other highlights from the report:

For the candidates, it's the economy

Twenty-four percent of all Romney posts and 19 percent of Obama posts were about the economy. However, the campaigns differed in the angle they stressed. The Romney campaign devoted nearly twice the attention to jobs in its posts -- 14 percent of posts compared to 8 percent from the Obama campaign. 

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But the digital audience is more interested in health care and immigration

The economy may have dominated both candidates’ digital messaging, but other issues -- such as immigration and health care -- were far more likely to spur resharing by their digital audience. Obama’s posts about the economy generated an average of 361 shares or retweets. His posts about immigration, by comparison, generated more than four times that, and women’s and veteran’s issues generated more than three times the reaction. Romney’s posts on health care and veterans averaged almost twice the response per post of his economic messages.

The candidates have taken the social out of social media

If the Internet offers the promise of making campaigns more of a two-way conversation with citizens, the candidates are not participating. Just 16 percent of Obama’s tweets over the two-week period studied were retweets. The Romney campaign had just one retweet during this period -- something from Romney’s son, Josh.

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie