politics

Googling the 2012 election

Lunch with @stiles @ethanklapper @ginnyhunt et al to hear about new elections tech http://google.com/elections

The Internet will be a core component of the 2012 election cycle. Of course, you follow technology and politics, you know that’s been increasingly true for years. Last week, speaking at a briefing in Google’s DC offices, Google’s Rob Saliterman cited a 3/10/2011 op-ed by Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal, where he wrote that The impact of the Internet on elections has only begun to be felt:

The Internet makes it likely that more campaigns will be self-directed from the grass roots. The tea party movement, for example, would have been impossible to organize and coordinate without email and the Web. Thus campaign managers will have to rely less on activity in centralized headquarters and more on volunteers—working at their pace and in their way—to reach voters on their laptops, tablets and smart phones.

Cutting-edge campaigns have quickly grasped how the Web makes it easier and less expensive to transmit information. But campaigns are only starting to understand how to use the Web and social-networking tools to make video and other data go viral—moving not just to those on a campaign’s email list but to the broader public.

It took decades for the changes inaugurated by the “We Like Ike” TV ads to fully take hold. It will likewise take time for political practitioners to figure out what works and what doesn’t work on the Internet. But we are seeing a version of Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” fundamentally alter the landscape of American politics. It will have huge implications on how campaigns are run, who we elect, and what kind of country we become.

A year later, we’re seeing that reality writ large upon the canvas of the 2012 elections. The portrait of the impact of the Internet and mobile devices upon the decisions that Saliterman painted through statistics offers a glimpse at where the future is trending. (Sources noted where provided.)

  • 83% of mobile phone owners are registered voters. (Nielsen Mobile)
  • One third of voters learn from online-only sources. (Pew).
  • 33% of likely voters don’t watch live TV. (Accenture)
  • 70% of likely Republican voters in South Carolina went online before the primary.
  • 2012 Primary voters viewed 14-20 sources before voting.
  • 49% of people compared different candidates online.

Political campaigns using geotargeted, contextual search ads for rapid response in primaries, says @robsaliterman

In that context, Saliterman shared out to the room of Washington politicos and media three ways that campaigns are using the Internet — or, more specifically, Google products — to reach voters and influence the political conversation:

  1. Google search advertising, used for rapid response to the political news cycle, anticipating what people are searching for and putting a campaign or media’s story where it will be found.
  2. Geotargeted advertising, where likely voters in a primary, municipal election or state election can be served contextual messages based upon the location from which they’re accessing a webpage
  3. Promoted video ads on YouTube, the world’s biggest video platform

More information on Google Elections is, naturally, available online, along with a toolkit.

There’s also a directory of public data that contains information on countries far beyond the borders of the U.S. that will be of interest to journalists and researchers who are not engaged in electoral politics.

Googling "unemployment" using public data http://www.google.com/publicdata/directory

Postscript: For an excellent discussion of where campaigns are going in search of the digital voter, read Amy Schatz in the Wall Street Journal.

Correction: A statistic provided by Google about the percentage of smartphone/tablet owners that are registered to vote was removed from this post after it could not be confirmed.

STUDY: On Twitter, Congressional Republicans lead on engagement, links and laws cited

Data from a new study on the use of Twitter by U.S. Senator and Representatives by public relations giant Edelman strongly suggests that the Grand Old Party has opened up a grand old lead in its use of the popular microblogging platform in just about every metric.

On Twitter’s 6th birthday, there’s more political speech flowing through tweets than ever. Twitter data from the study, as provided by Simply Measured, showed that on Twitter, Republican lawmakers are mentioned more, reply more often, are retweeted more, share more links to rich content and webpages, and reference specific bills much more often. Republicans tweet about legislation 3.5 times more than Democrats.

There are also more Republicans on Twitter: while the 89 U.S. Senators who tweet are evenly split, with one more Republican Senator tipping the balance, in the U.S. House there are 67 more Republican Representatives expressing themselves in 140 characters or less.

At this point, it’s worth noting that one of Twitter’s government leads in DC estimated earlier this year that only 15-20% of Congressional Twitter accounts are actually being updated by the Congressmen themselves, but the imbalance stands.

While Edelman DC was quite tactful about what its study on the yeas and nays of the Congressional Twitterverse revealed, the lead Congressional Republicans hold on Twitter has been well documented since 2010, when a study on Twitter in Congress asserted that Democrats use Twitter for transparency, while Republicans use it for outreach. A 2011 survey of social media use in Congress by the Associated Press found that the Republicans similarly “out tweeting” Democrats on Twitter.

While the ways that governments deal with social media cannot be measured by one platform alone nor the activity upon it, the data in the embedded study below be of interest to many, particularly as the window for Congress to pass meaningful legislation narrows as the full election season looms this summer.

In the context of social media and election 2012, how well a Representative or Senator is tweeting could be assessed by whether they can use Twitter to build awareness of political platforms, respond to opposing campaign or, perhaps importantly for the purposes of the election, reach potential voters, help get them registered, and bring them to the polls

Capitol Tweets: Yeas and Nays of the Congressional Twitterverse

Nathan Eung, one of the authors of the study cited above, wrote at Govfresh about how the reasons for using Twitter may be different across party lines

Outreach and transparency are both valuable to a healthy democracy, and to some extent, it is re-assuring that Twitter use is motivated by both reasons. An interesting counter-factual situation would be if the Republicans were the majority party. We may therefore ask in that situation: Is the desire to reach out to (opposing) voters strongest for “losing” parties? Our study certainly hints that Republicans are not only motivated to use Twitter as a means to reach out to their own followers, but also to Democrats, as they are more likely to use Twitter in cases where their district was overwhelmingly in favor President Barack Obama.

All-in-all, it would seem like Twitter is good for the whole Gov 2.0 idea. If Republicans are using Twitter as a means for outreach, then more bills may be passed (note: this has yet to be tested empirically, and still remains an open question for researchers). If Democrats are using Twitter as a means for transparency, then the public benefits from the stronger sense of accountability.

Capitol Tweets: New Edelman Study Looks at U.S. Congressional Performance on Twitter

Can Facebook predict the winner of the 2011 NH presidential primary?

Last week, looking at Twitter as a predictor the Iowa caucus results or building tools to do so felt like the shiny object of the moment in the tech blogosphere. Some were more over the top than others but the genre is well established: adapt the numbers of followers and fans a candidate has on Twitter and Facebook to the classic “horse race” coverage of political campaigns. Used that way, it feels like the latest in a long list of reasons to conjecture that political coverage is broken.

As Micah Sifry suggested at techPresident, however, you shouldn’t believe the social media hype.

“There are so many ways that such changes might NOT be indicative of anything, or indicative of the opposite, that it almost seems silly to list them. A candidate might gain followers because he’s entertaining to his opponents. She might gain followers because of something outrageous that she says. The same with retweets. As the saying used to go, “a link is not an endorsement.” At best, it’s a very low-level indication of interest, an invitation to start a relationship that campaigns need to convert into real support. Similarly, we shouldn’t take big numbers of followers or “likes” as proof that a candidate has a really engaged base. Over on the Huffington Post, Alan Rosenblatt demolishes the notion that Newt Gingrich 1.4 million Twitter followers means he’s popular among Republicans. For starters, half of those accounts aren’t even in the United States. Newt’s numbers are a sign of online longevity and notoriety, not much more. And who can forget when Herman Cain was topping the Facebook “buzz” charts?”

Today at techPresident, Nick Judd published a feature on Twitter obsession that went even deeper into the issue and how problematic trying to prognosticate about the campaigns using social media can be. It’s worth reading the whole thing but here’s the relevant bit:

“The thing about attaching numbers to people’s names is that it usually makes them want to make the number go up. Call it gamification if you want. The truth is that it’s human nature, and as more people pay attention to social media, it is creating a sort of downward behavioral spiral. Candidates wanting more points on the social media scoreboard are urging supporters to tweet and post to Facebook on their behalf — spreading borderline spam on social networks and doing nothing to make the campaign season less of a horse race when that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. “

Judd suggests that instead, political reporters and tech journalists (and those of us who try to straddle those worlds, on some level) should be evaluating the success — or failure of campaigns based upon better metrics.

“…why not evaluate them in the public online sphere based on metrics that say more about their potential as a public official? Especially over the past two years, information of this type has become easier for programmers to get to. The unfinished bit is making a competition in which a candidate can ‘win the Internet’ by accumulating the most small-dollar donors, or by making the most in-state campaign stops of an hour or more in a week, or by staking out the most detailed position on oh, I don’t know, the future of American Internet infrastructure.”

I think Judd is offering political journalists a great way to differentiate themselves from the pack of stressed, overworked correspondents chasing the same story in the same place. As primary season goes into hyperdrive, I can’t help but hope that some take up his suggestion.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of social media and government over the past couple years. Governance has proven to be a genuine challenge, at least with respect to the current architectures for digital participation we have. That could well change, as the civic Web moves from idea to reality. To make the point in a succinct way, policy makers seeking to leverage technology in governance in the 21st century might do better to look to the wiki, not the tweet.

Campaigns, however, particularly well suited to quicksilver sociality of media, with its capacity to share links to viral videos, rapid responses or pithy quotes. There’s a reason that reporters of many stripes, political or not, watch Twitter carefully now: it tends to be where news breaks first.

All that being said, I saw some data tonight that made me wonder, yet again, about social media’s potential value as a leading indicator, getting out ahead of the polls that campaigns and the media traditionally use to gauge how the candidates are doing. While Twitter still has low penetration in the overall population of voters, a majority of Americans online are now on Facebook.

Earlier this evening, I got off the phone with Jan Rezab, CEO of Socialbakers, whose company has been crunching social data from Facebook around the GOP presidential candidates. They’ve been porting the data into an infographic on elections at socialbakers.com.

There are several ways to read the data, said Rezab, including the overall status of a candidate, where they’ve been gaining followers over a long period of time. If we look deeper, said Rezab, the best thing is geometrics, looking at fan gains, people talking about the candidates, how many people do they reach and what topic they talk about.

So here’s the interesting data point — and yes, I may well have buried the lede — social data from Facebook shows former Utah Governor John Huntsman is trending sharply upwards, much as former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum did before Iowa. Hunstman gained 1182 fans yesterday and, as of 7 PM EST tonight, more than 2000 fans, a 69% increase. The same is also true of people talking about him on Facebook, with some 8800 people on the 8th and approximately 11,0000 today, a 25% increase.

That’s “quite huge growth,” said Rezab. “He’s the one that’s trending right now.”

Will growth be a leading indicator for Huntsman finishing 3rd or even 2nd? Hard to say. The gold standard for political calculus is Nate Silver at 538, who is now at the New York Times. Silver blogged today that “Huntsman has momentum but lacks time“:

“Two new polls out Sunday night showed a favorable trend for Mr. Huntsman. A Public Policy Polling survey, which had a very large sample size, gave him 16 percent of the vote, enough to challenge Ron Paul for second place. Another poll, by the University of New Hampshire, had Mr. Huntsman at 11 percent of the vote, although this was improved from his 7-percent standing earlier in the week.”

Will that be enough to keep him viable and in the race? It’s hard to know. I’ll refer readers back to Silver’s analysis of Huntsman’s prospects on that count.

Here’s one more thing to consider: relevant academic research. Responding to a question on Twitter about whether Facebook was was predictive, Girish J. “Jeff” Gulati, a politics professor at Bentley University, replied that the growth in Huntsman’s “likes” and “mentions” was not. Rather, “our 2008 data suggest it would be response to positive news coverage of his debate performance and gains in NH polls,” he replied. According to “Social Networks in Political Campaigns: Facebook and Congressional Elections 2006, 2008,” co-authored with Christine B. Williams, suggests a causal relationship is credibel, if not confirmed by their research data and methods:

Preliminary analysis of the Iowa and New Hampshire contests (Williams and Gulati, 2008) suggests that Facebook supporters matters even more than candidate visits and television ad buys, and together these indicators explain very high percentages of the variance in candidates‟ vote shares. The predictive power of the model for all New Hampshire voters was lower than for the model of all voters in the Iowa caucuses, however, and the regression coefficients for Facebook support were not statistically significant. The model for the youngest age cohort in New Hampshire was highly predictive, and there was a very strong and highly significant relationship between actual vote share and Facebook support among 18-24 year olds. Another approach would be to include as an independent variable the percentage voter turnout for 18 to 29 year olds in each state‟s nomination contest. If Facebook support is simply a surrogate for young people‟s heightened political engagement in the 2008 election, its independent effect would wash out.

If future research can confirm these findings and demonstrate a causal connection between online strategies and votes, then Facebook and other social networking sites will be an essential tool in enhancing the democratic process. These sites go beyond simply communicating the campaign‟s theme and information on how to make participating easier. Active engagement by the candidate and a well maintained site can make the candidate more accessible and seem more authentic. It also can encourage a more professional discussion among supporters. In addition to personalizing the candidate, Facebook puts a face on the candidate‟s other supporters and facilitates interpersonal connections around activities other than politics. And because Facebook organizes members by regional and organizational networks and gives greater access to profiles in one‟s own networks, offline meetings and connections are a real possibility. As membership in traditional civic associations declines, we see in these networks a new frontier for cultivating social capital, which candidates, elected officials and civic leaders can tap when they want to mobilize citizens for political action.

Will rapid changes on Facebook predict the winner of the 2011 NH presidential primary? There’s little doubt 2008 Facebook was a very different place, in terms of scale, functionality and integration into the lives of Americans online, than 2012 Facebook is today. Tens of millions of citizens have tablets and smartphones now and access Facebook from where ever they are. As we saw last Sunday, television networks and Facebook are increasingly integrating debates.

There’s “definitely a lot more going on Facebook and other social media this time around,” wrote Gulati in a follow up email. “In fact, every two years we see so much growth and change. I’ve been studying this since 2002. The beauty of studying this field is that there always exciting and you are never short of ideas for a new study. I still am sticking with my view that it is not a strong predictor of future success at the polls.”

Gulati listed three rationales for this assessment:

1. Much of social media strength is a function of longevity on Facebook and national visibility. “Gingrich, Romney, Paul, and Bachmann start out strong simply because they ran before and carry over their supporters or are members of Congress that are known nationwide,” wrote Gulati.

2. Some of the candidates who are stronger on social media are in that position because they are shut out of traditional sources. “Ron Paul and Buddy Roemer are cases in point,” wrote Gulati. “So my point is not to look at social media in isolation of other media.”

3. Social media isn’t integrated with the campaign. “From our interviews with Congressional candidates and staff in 2008 and 2010 (~150 interviews), we found that the staff really does not know what to do with these likes and followers,” wrote Gulati. “So even if a social media consultant is succeeding in growing the candidate’s online presence, it really does not go much past that. I think that as the number of followers grows, it actually will be harder for campaigns to truly engage with them because there are just too many. A similar problem was happening in Congress with regards to e-mail overload. I’m not sure if they really have resolved the problem.”

Gulati attributes rapid changes in likes or mentions to external events, which is makes sense. The one billion dollar question, is whether a social media following will lead to offline action, in this case results at the polls:

Of course, your post was referring to the change in supporters rather than actual numbers. I think clearly that indicates some buzz around the candidate. But I still see it as a reaction to external events as in 2008 rather than social media pushing overall numbers mostly because I haven’t seen any evidence that social media strength can move poll numbers or actual results. I think one reason that so many of us who study social media give social media such an elevated prominence because that’s all we see or what we see on a regular basis.”

Do you think the growth in user base and political involvement will lead other researchers to different conclusions? Or, as Sifry and Judd eloquently argued, should the idea or the practice of looking at politics from the perspective of a social prism alone simply be consigned to the “dustbin of twistory?”

Comments are open. And, even more important, the first votes of the presidential primary season will be cast as the eyes of the nation turn towards Dixville Notch .

Pew: More than half of US adults went online to get election news in 2010

The Pew Internet and Life Project released new research today on the Internet and Campaign 2010 that 73% of adult internet users went online to get news, information or otherwise be involved in last year’s elections. That represents some 54% of all US adults, or a majority of the population, now are turning to the Internet when election season comes around. Expect that to grow further in the presidential season next year.

“As the Internet has developed as a tool for political engagement and information-seeking, the audience for online political content has also changed,” said Aaron Smith, Pew Internet senior research specialist in a prepared statement. Smith authored the report. “These online spaces are a meeting place where politically engaged Americans of all stripes—young and old, conservative and liberal—can come to catch up on the latest events, share their thoughts on the political news of the day, and see what their friends have to say about the issues that are important to them.”

Online

Mainstream media websites occupy the top 5 spots in the list of the main sources of news cited by respondents, next to Yahoo and Google. Only 2% of those surveyed said that they visited a candidate’s website, setting a low bar for that number to explode in the 2012 cycle as both incumbents and those wishing to oust them turn to the Web to “go direct” to citizens.

For some, where they’re visiting is a little less clear. 29% of those surveyed chose “other” for their main sources of news, which could mean any number of sources in the blogosphere or the rest of the Internet.

Chart: Pew_Internet and Campaign 2010_Source

Source: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, November 3-24, 2010 Post-Election Tracking Survey. n=2,257 national adults ages 18 and older, including 755 cell phone interviews. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Note: totals may exceed 100% due to multiple responses. This chart is based on data from “22% of online Americans used social networking or Twitter for politics in 2010 campaign,” a report on politics and social media by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. This report is available in full on our website at http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/The-Internet-and-Campaign-2010.aspx. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. For more information about the Project, please visit http://pewinternet.org/About-Us.aspx.
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Social

Social networking is an increasingly important factor in American consumption of political news. According to eMarketer, in 2011 half of all US Internet users log in monthly to Facebook.

There are now well over than tens of million American Twitter users, though a small percentage of those users account for the bulk of the tweets. According to Pew, one in five online adults (22%) used Twitter or a social networking site for political purposes in 2010. Twitter has some 200 million users worldwide, approximately 60 million of them of which are in the United States.

Video

With more broadband access, Internet-connected flatscreen televisions, set-top boxes and an explosion of video-capable smartphones and tablets, people are also watching in more places, spaces and times than ever before. Timeshifting stopped being a science fiction phenomenon years ago with the introduction of digital video recorders, familiar now as “DVRs”, but on-demand video from Apple, Amazon, YouTube, Netflix and a host of other sites are available to those able to pay the toll for broadband Internet access.

Chart: Pew_Internet and Campaign 2010_Online Video

Source: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, November 3-24, 2010 Post-Election Tracking Survey. n=2,257 adult internet users ages 18 and older, including 755 cell phone interviews; interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. n=1,628 based on internet users. This chart is based on data from “22% of online Americans used social networking or Twitter for politics in 2010 campaign,” a report on politics and social media by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. This report is available in full on our website at http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/The-Internet-and-Campaign-2010.aspx. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. For more information about the Project, please visit http://pewinternet.org/About-Us.aspx.
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Polarized?

According to the report, some “55% of all internet users feel that the internet increases the influence of those with extreme political views, compared with 30% who say that the internet reduces the influence of those with extreme views by giving ordinary citizens a chance to be heard.”

Is the Internet polarizing? Micah Sifry of techPresident wasn’t so sure.

This could be true, or it could be a false positive. What if people are conflating things? Arguably politics in America is more polarized, but cable TV and talk radio and paid negative political advertising are driving that shift, while the Internet is just an overall disruptive force that is enabling lots of more people to speak up and connect with the like-minded and unlike-minded alike.

Groups

Polarization can express itself in how people group online and offline. As with so many activities online, political information gathering online requires news consumers to be more digitally literate.

In 2011, that may mean recognizing the potential for digital echo chambers, where unaware citizens become trapped in a filter bubble created by rapidly increasing personalization in search, commercial and social utilities like Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Pew’s research found that some of the people surveyed at least recognized the complexity of the political landscape online. With a few clicks of the mouse, keystrokes or finger taps, a news consumer can find the best and worst of humanity is mirrored online. The open platform of the Internet allows extremist views to co-exists alongside moderate perspectives. It also provides means for like-minded citizens to find one another, using the Internet as a platform for collective action.

Chart: Pew Internet_Internet and Campaign 2010_Point of View

Source: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, November 3-24, 2010 Post-Election Tracking Survey. N=2,257 adult internet users ages 18 and older, including 755 cell phone interviews; Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. n=1,167 based on online political users. This chart is based on data from “22% of online Americans used social networking or Twitter for politics in 2010 campaign,” a report on politics and social media by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. This report is available in full on our website at http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/The-Internet-and-Campaign-2010.aspx. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. For more information about the Project, please visit http://pewinternet.org/About-Us.aspx.
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While the diversity of sources may have radically expanded and the delivery systems for them may have multiplied, finding and establishing the truth of what’s out there can be be challenging.

Caveat lector.

You can download the full report as a PDF here. For digital politicos, it’s a must read.