David Schuff, associate professor of management information systems at Temple University's Fox School of Business, said in an e-mail that "social media's big contribution to the 2012 election was mobilization of the base. Obama's huge electoral victory was due in part to his supporters showing up to the polls. It's grass-roots organization but on a massive scale."
Turnout in Philadelphia and environs, for example, easily swamped an anti-Obama groundswell in western Pennsylvania. Similar stories played out in Ohio, Virginia and Florida, where late-reporting urban areas with vigorous turnout undid Romney advantages elsewhere. Obama's 70-plus percent support from Latino voters helped win crucial Colorado and (probably) Florida. In Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, youth voters also helped, even if the numbers did not match the ecstatic explosions of 2008.
As of this writing, Obama enjoys a lead of 3 million in the popular vote. According to pollster Kristen Soltis, Romney outdid Obama by about 1.8 million with voters over 30, but Obama apparently outdid Romney by almost 5 million with voters under 30. That tallies closely with age groups and their use of social media. Rousseau said that "if young voters had stayed home, Romney would have taken a lot of key battleground states. Social media had a huge influence on these young voters heading to the polls."
Mary Ellen Bachunis, professor of political science at La Salle University, said by email that her students were concerned about the frequently misleading and inaccurate nature of the stuff on Twitter, but "The good news is that more people are becoming interested in politics."
Twitter went nuts on Election Day and Night, with more than 31 million tweets total and spikes of more than 327,000 tweets per minute, both torching U.S. records. An analysis of U.S. Twitter activity by Tony Grubesic, Sean Goggins, and associates at the Drexel Informatics Lab reveals heavy tweeting on the East Coast and in Ohio urban areas. Tweeters tended to be Democrats; Republican tweeters were strongest in states such as Utah, Texas, and Arizona.
In all, Team Romney did very well, trimming Obama's massive 9.6-million margin of 2008 by 6.6 million votes or 69 percent. But it wasn't nearly enough, as Romney's forces learned on Election Night. The Times article put it well: "The power of this operation stunned Mr. Romney's aides... as they saw voters they never even knew existed turn out in places like Osceola County, Fla." That I-4 corridor in Florida, once dependably Republican, has changed its makeup with an influx of Latino, female, and younger voters, and it went for Obama this time, as Obama data showed it would.
Big data, courtesy of its godparents, the social media.
Barack Obama is the greatest vote-getter in the history of U.S. politics. His total of 69.45 million in 2008 smashed all previous records, and his current total is 61.17 million. His two-campaign total of 130 million-plus beats the previous record (held by George W. Bush) by 18 million votes.
(Mitt Romney's total, as of this writing, is a creditable 58.163 million. He probably will not equal Sen. John McCain's excellent 2008 total of 59.9 million. Total votership, however, was down this year for both parties.)
Social media helped, of course. But social media did not create those votes. They helped find them. They would not have found them had the votes not been there -- credit what the Twitter photo shows, the human elements, the perceived attractiveness of the candidate himself and the voters' preference. Yet -- and here's the difference, as of 2008, 2012, and forever forward - even had they existed, no one before Barack Obama ever had such tools to find them.
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