Friday, August 31, 2007

Will social networking sites have an impact on the 2008 presidential campaign?

Will social networking sites have an impact on the 2008 presidential campaign?


A study of the 2006 congressional elections points to a connection between campaign activity on Facebook and electoral success.


Christine Williams and Jeff Gulati, Bentley College



Online Social Networks introduced as 2006 Election Tool

Facebook launched its Election Pulse feature in September 2006, providing generic profiles to candidates running for a congressional or gubernatorial seat. Each profile included the candidate's name, office, state and party affiliation. The candidates were provided with log-in information and passwords, which allowed them to manage their profiles during the campaign.


Once the candidates took possession of their sites, they could personalize their profiles in the same way open to any member. They could post photographs, summarize their qualifications for office and major accomplishments, list their favorite television programs, movies, books and other interests. Facebook profiles also provide the capability for the candidate to publicize their support for a number of existing political groups, causes and other candidates, post notes to their supporters, and post and respond to comments on their wall.

  • Facebook's efforts with Election Pulse and its streamlining of the process for connecting candidates and supporters seemed to encourage a substantial number of candidates to integrate the site into their online strategies.
    • 32% of candidates running for the Senate updated their Election Pulse profile in some way over the course of our study.
    • 13% of candidates running for the House updated their profile.
  • Although MySpace and YouTube received considerably more press coverage and hype in 2006, the candidates clearly directed more of their attention to Facebook when considering how to use online social networking sites to mobilize supporters.
    • Only 21% of the Senate candidates and only 2.7% of the House candidates had profiles on MySpace. Excluding profiles created by someone not officially affiliated with the campaign suggests that, at best, only 12% of Senate candidates and 2.3% of House candidates had a legitimate campaign on MySpace.
    • Even fewer candidates campaigned on YouTube. Only 13 of 130 Senate candidates created their own "channels," where the candidates could post videos and allow "subscribers" to their channels to share videos with other supporters. Not one of the 1,102 House candidates had their own channel.

On each profile, Facebook displayed the number of supporters for each candidate and provided a continuous snapshot of each candidate's percentage of "votes" in his or her race. Candidates need not have accessed their profiles to gain supporters.

  • Most Democratic and Republican Senate candidates had supporters in the triple digits with an average of 2,146 supporters.
    • Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) had the most support among Senate candidates, with 12,038 Facebook users having registered themselves as supporters by October.
    • Four other Democrats—Bob Casey (PA), Harold Ford (TN), Sherrod Brown (OH), and Ned Lamont (CT)—exceeded 5,000 supporters. Nine of the top 10 candidates were Democrats.
    • The most successful Republican candidate and sixth overall was Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), who registered support from 4,981 Facebook members.
  • The average number of supporters for Democratic and Republican House candidates was 125. As was the case for the Senate, House Democratic candidates were more popular than Republican candidates with the Facebook community.
    • Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) had the most support among House candidates, with 913 members registered as supporters even though she had not personalized her profile by October.
    • Rep. Dennis Moore (D-KS), Patty Wetterling (MN), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH), and Rep. Marion Berry (AR) also were among the most popular House candidates on Facebook.
    • The Republican with the most support and ranked 9th overall was then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), with 580 supporters.
  • In general, the decision to campaign with Facebook is a clear reflection of partisan differences in mobilization strategies that finds Democrats more eager than Republicans to use the Internet as a way to communicate with their supporters.
    • 61% of Democratic Senate candidates updated their Facebook profile, but only 39% of Republican candidates did the same.
    • Among House candidates, there was no statistical difference between the two parties: 17% of Democrats and 14% of Republicans updated their Facebook profile.
    • In both Senate and House races, minor-party candidates lagged behind the major-party candidates.




Which candidates were more likely to use Facebook?


  • Among House candidates, the most likely to update their Facebook profile were:
    • challengers
    • better-financed candidates
    • candidates running in competitive races
    • candidates running in districts with a higher percentage of college graduates
  • Among Senate candidates, the most likely to update their Facebook profile were:
    • Democrats
    • candidates running in competitive races


Did Facebook Matter in 2006?

  • Incumbents who updated their Facebook profile did not perform any differently in terms of final vote percentages than incumbents who did not update their profile.
  • Incumbents who ran against challengers who updated also did not perform any differently in terms of final vote percentages than those who did not.
  • The number of the incumbents' Facebook supporters and the challengers' supporters indicates that a candidate's' Facebook activity had a significant effect on the incumbent's final outcome.
    • A 1% percent increase in number of Facebook supporters for incumbents increased their final vote percentage by .011. Put another way, an incumbent who had 100% more supporters than another incumbent (i.e., twice as many supporters) would have finished with a vote share that was 1.1% higher than the other incumbent.
    • A 1% increase in the number of Facebook supporters for challengers reduced incumbents' vote percentage by .015. At the same time, if the incumbent's opponent had twice as many supporters as the other incumbent's opponent, he or she would have finished with a vote share that was 1.5% lower.
  • Social networking sites had an even larger impact in open-seat races:
    • open-seat candidates who updated their Facebook profile had a 3.8% higher vote share than candidates who did not update their profiles.
    • open-seat candidates who doubled the number of supporters (i.e., increased their support by 100%) increased their final vote share by 3%.
    • open-seat candidates running against challengers who doubled the number of their supporters saw their vote share decrease by 2.4%.
  • While these results suggest that the impact of Facebook has the potential to be substantial, it is important to note that there is a diminishing return associated with adding more supporters.
    • For example, increasing the number of supporters for an incumbent from 100 to 200, would add 1.1% to an incumbent's vote share. But to add another 1.1%, 200 more supporters would need to be added. Another 1.1% increase would require 400 additional supporters.
    • Moreover, no candidate is adding supporters in a vacuum. Presumably, the challenger also is adding supporters, making the net effect somewhat minimal.