The Crowdwire


Our LIVE Social Media Exit Poll

Note: This post was published on Election Day when our Live Exit Poll was running here in real time. The poll was turned on at 12:01 am that day and turned off at 12 midnight, shortly after the presidential-race results were known. Though no longer live, it stands as a snapshot of a very big day in politics and social media.

Live Social Media Exit Poll Grab

Running now and throughout Election Day at the top of this page is The Crowdwire’s exclusive Live Social Media Exit Poll. It shows the number of people who are sharing the news that they voted - either by tweet or public Facebook post - and, if they reveal it, how they voted.

Voted for Obama Tweet

The numbers are updated every five minutes. The gray section at the top shows the overall number of people reporting they voted. This reflects everyone who reports voting today by saying “I voted,” #voted, #justvoted and many other similar expressions. The tally of those who also included an indication of how they voted - either for Obama or Romney - is shown in the red and blue sections.*

Voted No Candidate

Hover over the graph and it will show the numbers for any 5-minute period.

This is obviously not a mirror of the voting public, or a reflection of how the public at large is voting today. Rather, it reflects the particular slice of the public who are social-media users. Imagine that a new state has just been added to the union. In terms of population, it’s a big California-sized state, but it has no geographic location. Its residents are famous for having a lot to say about politics and other subjects. Our exit poll is a live dispatch from the state called Social Media where, as the graph shows, the voting is now underway!

Voted for Romney Tweet

*If our “vote count” were based on pure mentions of Obama and Romney, it would capture people who happen to mention the candidate they oppose and other irrelevant mentions. The tools we used aim to filter out as many such comments as possible. We are monitoring the results through the day to ensure that the data reflect actual voting tendencies as reported in tweets and public Facebook posts.

Election Dominates Top Ten Brands

Brands Update - Early November

Joe Biden bigger than the iPad? Paul Ryan close to overtaking Starbucks? Conventional wisdom says that in the U.S., elections take a back seat to consumerism. But not lately.

The Crowdwire launched with a look at Obama and Romney as brands. Presidential candidates are not typical brands, and far more is at stake in this election than in the battle between, say, McDonald’s and Burger King.

Yet branding is essential to every presidential campaign, because in order to win the people’s vote you first have to get their attention. As we noted, that’s not easy:

"In their efforts to get our attention and win us over, the candidates are competing not just with each other, but with the teeming thousands of brands that populate everyday life.”

To make the sale, Romney and Obama have used the most sophisticated tools of the marketplace, including the more than $1 billion worth of television ads that filled the airwaves in the crucial swing states.

How have they done in the brand war? Social media helped us answer this question. Growing numbers of people go on social platforms regularly to talk about every imaginable subject, including both consumer brands and political ones.

So, using analytical tools developed by Bluefin Labs, we tracked how Brand Romney and Brand Obama have performed, in terms of social-media awareness, against about 600 of the largest consumer brands.

Last summer, before the party conventions and the debates, we were surprised to see the political brands already dominating. In our first analysis, Obama was at the top of the list, followed by the iPhone in second place and Romney in third.

In September, on the heels of the GOP convention, we ran the data again and discovered that Romney had moved up to second place.

Now, on the eve of the election, the top two brands are the same: Obama first, followed by Romney. But since the last update, the presidential contenders have pulled far away from the competition. The iPhone drew less than half as many social mentions as either candidate during the three-month period covered - which included the release of the iPhone 5.

Meanwhile, there are two new arrivals in the Top Ten: Paul Ryan and Joe Biden. The vice presidential candidates are, in their own right, now top brands. This is due, at least in part, to the vice presidential debate, which sparked a great deal of social discussion.

More broadly, Biden and Ryan are important players in an election that has riveted the social audience. Even the iPad couldn’t compete with that.

To read our caveats about political brands, please see the first post in this series.

Super-Storm Hits Election

Sandy Effect on PPP

There was no Election 2012 debate last week, but social media behaved as if there had been one. What could possibly have the same effect as those widely watched debates?

Hurricane Sandy, that’s what. Even before it slammed into the East Coast, the super-storm was reshaping the election conversation, putting a greater emphasis on Policy.Obam Storm Tweet

As we’ve shown in our previous Three P’s posts, all the debates (three presidential and one vice presidential) bumped Politics - the so-called “horse race” - down among the three topics contending for dominance.

The presidential debates were such substantial conversations, each drove Policy to the top of the list (in the first debate, the Policy spike happened after a two-day delay, as we explained in our post). The vice-presidential contest produced a spike for Personality, due to high-volume commentary about Joe Biden’s debating style and behavioral tics. Three Ps Logo

As the graph shows, in all four cases, the shift was clear but temporary. Eventually, after a few days, Politics resumed its dominance.

As Sandy was approaching the East Coast of the U.S., there was a burst of tweets about its possible election implications. Many commenters speculated about the possibility that the storm would be politicized. These remarks were classified under Politics by the analytic tools that help us track the Three P’s.

But once Sandy hit, Obama’s response to it, along with discussion of Romney’s positions on crisis management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, drove a spike in Policy that you can see on the graph. That Policy spike peaked the day after the storm and then began to decline.Romney Storm Tweet

Almost inevitably, as Election Day approached, chatter about polls and swing states began to grow. This is reflected in the rise of the Politics line at the far right end of the graph.

Now, as Americans prepare to cast their votes and the mainstream media focus again on the race itself, will Politics resume the top spot? After the votes are in, we’ll take another look and report back.

Roars & Echoes: Heyward on Politics, TV and Twitter

Social media are transforming politics in surprising ways. The new tools aren’t supplanting the old one that has defined and delivered our elections for decades - television. They’ve moved in beside TV and are altering how we use it.

For a better understanding of this shifting landscape, we chatted with Andrew Heyward, the former President of CBS News (1996-2005), who now advises media and technology companies including Bluefin Labs, home of The Crowdwire. Straddling two eras, Andrew HeywardHeyward explains what’s new about this election, what isn’t, and where we’re headed next.

Let’s start with the role of television in this campaign. How has it changed from a decade ago?

The role of TV is very similar to ten years ago. What’s changed is that TV is no longer the only place where important impressions about the campaign are being created. Television pretends to be a conversation, but it’s mostly a conversation between insiders, with the occasional insertion of a vox populi - and that’s often canned.

What’s great about the current environment is that it’s what the Founding Fathers had in mind, except at an inconceivable scale. Social media allow anyone to join the conversation. It’s had a wonderful democratizing influence, freeing people to express their opinions outside the gatekeepers of TV or newspapers. At the same time, it’s a fantastic tool for sociologists and political analysts to observe the campaign as it evolves.

And social media have a symbiotic relationship with TV.  It’s TV that exposes the candidates and issues to the public. Then social media allow ordinary citizens to talk back to the TV and to talk amongst themselves.

You mentioned that TV’s basic function hasn’t changed all that much. What else hasn’t changed? 

The campaigns are essentially packaged for TV, as they have been for decades. The candidates themselves are carefully groomed for TV consumption, and so is almost everything they say. They’re now like ultra-sophisticated media companies using multiple technologies to reach voters. But television is still the most powerful by far.

What did you think of the debates, not just as electoral events but as TV?  Were they good TV?

I think they were fine, adequate. The producers are hemmed in by the fact that the campaigns negotiate almost every aspect of the programs - the format, the setting and so on. Yes, they’re live on television, but they’re not anywhere near as freewheeling as the word ‘debate’ would suggest.

If Romney wins, that first debate is going to take on historical importance at the level of Nixon and Kennedy in 1960. The race changed significantly as a result. President Obama had an opportunity there to solidify a victory, as opposed to putting a victory in doubt.

One other noteworthy aspect of the debates, and you pointed this out on The Crowdwire, was that a significant portion of the comments about the debates were devoted to policy.

Were you surprised at the size of the TV audience - the fact that nearly 70 million watched the first one? 

I was pleasantly surprised but not terribly surprised. There are very significant differences between the candidates. I think people are sick of commercials, canned appearances and pundits, and the chance to actually see the candidates themselves on the stage is very powerful and appealing.

More generally, do you see downsides to this media transformation?

I think there are several. One aspect of the symbiotic relationship between social media and the commentariat in general, is that the reaction is now so swift and large, it’s actually contributing to wilder swings of the pendulum than we had before. The scrutiny that every single utterance gets, and the sheer amount of analysis and commentary, has the potential to turn hiccups into bellows and roars.

Arguably, the negative effect for the Obama campaign from the first debate was a result as much of the reaction to the debate as to the debate itself. Because not everyone watched it. If you didn’t watch it and only heard about it, then I think you might get an even more extreme impression of one-sidedness - Obama took a drubbing - than if you had watched it. There’s a kind of echo effect that might be distorted

Another possible negative, related to the first, is we don’t really know yet the degree to which the Twitter-using population accurately reflects the population at large. Yet because it’s so tempting to analyze the data and because in fact there are very interesting observations to be made, there’s always a risk that the Twitter-using population has a disproportionate influence on people’s perception of how the race is going.

A final potential downside is the possibility that social media can be gamed or manipulated. But again, when you analyze social media as an indicator of trends, you just have to be aware there are these potential pitfalls.

How have social tools changed the practice of political journalism?

We’ve already talked about a couple of them. Twitter has become a significant source of not just sentiment but content. Journalists, as users of Twitter, are also publishers and content creators themselves. This is a very effective way for journalists and analysts to share their views in a pithy and instantaneous form. It’s a very valuable way for those who cover the race and think about the race to share content.

The upside here - and also the downside - is that Twitter forces you to condense your insights and observations to 140-character units. You could argue that that imposes a wonderful discipline or that it creates a forced superficiality.

It’s also an enormously effective way to distribute longer-form content through links. That’s new and important. It’s a significant form of distribution and content- awareness-building, and not just for the short-form stuff.  

During debates and other big, televised campaign events, do you keep one eye on Twitter and/or Facebook in real-time?

I don’t happen to do that, because I really like the idea of focusing and forming my own impressions. But I see why that’s an appealing way to watch these events for a lot of people. And certainly on election night I will be at least a two- and probably a three-screen person. That’s the way the world is going.

Among the people and organizations you follow on Twitter, do you have a favorite? 

No, to me what’s fascinating is the overall phenomenon rather than the particular insights of one or two individuals. Right now, the whole is more interesting than the parts.

The Archive of Persuasion

We won’t know until after Election Day what impact TV ads had on the outcome. But there’s no question that ads are changing the nature of politics, thanks to huge increases in fundraising levels and the rise of super PACs. The question is how they’re changing it, and it’s not easy to answer.

Enter the Wesleyan Media Project, a continuation of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project. From 1998-2008, the Wisconsin project studied how candidates, political parties, and special interest groups communicated with voters. Now based at Wesleyan University, the project is still run by three of the original graduate students from Wisconsin, now teaching at other universities.

We interviewed co-director Michael Franz about the project’s methods and findings.

What is the basic mission of the Wesleyan Media Project?

Michael FranzWhat we do is twofold: first, we track and code television ads in real time, which allows us to publicize the intensity and content of the ad wars. This is very hard to do absent the data we have, because campaign finance reports are often not as comprehensive as one would like. Lots of groups do not have to report their spending, for example, and candidate reports to the Federal Election Commission are not detailed enough to know when ads aired.

Second, we archive the data and eventually make it available to scholars for use in their research. Together with the Wisconsin Advertising Project, we have an archive of political ads that stretches back to 1996 and accounts for over 14 million airings.

How does your ad tracking system work?

We buy the raw data from a commercial firm called Kantar Media/CMAG, which has ad trackers in all 210 media markets across the country. These trackers capture and record ads every time they air on local broadcast stations (i.e., local ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox affiliates) or on national cable.

We get the data on the ad airings weekly, and each individual ad in video form. We then code each ad on nearly 100 dimensions, such as its tone, the issues covered in the ad, and the identity of the sponsor. We even code for whether the ad is likely making an emotional appeal such as humor or fear. By appending our coding to the frequency of ad airings, we can then see what kinds of ads are airing where, by whom, and at what levels.

How does your coding system work? Do you do it by hand?

We code these by human hand, and the tone categories are essentially objective. If an ad only mentions an opponent, it’s a negative ad; if it only mentions a supported candidate, it’s positive; and if it mentions more than one candidate, it’s a contrast ad. Our inter-coder reliability on this measure is very high. For the emotions, we do a lot of training with coders about how to identify those appeals, and as expected, our reliability there is lower. We get strong agreement across coders for emotions like anger, fear, and humor. Pride and enthusiasm are a bit harder to detect or code consistently. We are looking at ways to automate this, and some political science research is arguing for an automated approach over a human coder.

What are your long-term goals for the project? What have you accomplished so far?

Our long-terms goals are to continue adding to the archive in subsequent elections, and also disseminate our results to the broader public. With outside groups increasingly prevalent in federal elections, it is imperative that voters know to what extent wealthy groups and donors are bankrolling persuasion efforts on television. We can speak to that—without any partisan or ideological goal on our part—by simply providing voters with information on who is advertising and at what levels.

To date, scholars have used the ad data from the project in dozens of scholarly articles, book chapters, and books. The data have allowed political scientists to develop and test sophisticated theories about how ads work in convincing voters to vote, and to see if ads have any effects on turnout or knowledge of key issues. Prior to this, the data for testing these effects were indirect and incomplete.

Do you have any hard results to share from this research? Do certain types of ads work better than others?

Great question, and there is no easy answer. It seems pretty clear that ads “work” in the sense that a great number of ads can move votes in your direction. But because many campaigns wind up with an equal number of ads for each side, the net effect is often zero. Travis Ridout and I have a book on this, The Persuasive Power of Campaign Ads, that uses data from the 2000, 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections. And political science has generally reached consensus that ads do not depress turnout; they might even stimulate interest in the election and raise turnout in small amounts. As to what “type” of ad works, the work continues.

What trends have you seen with political ads for the 2012 election?

This presidential race has had more ads than any previous election; both candidates, especially Obama, have aired an incredible number of negative ads; and outside groups, especially in support of Romney, have been extremely active. Even in congressional races, the level of spending from outside groups has been very high. This has been a very interesting election, one that has broken lots of records with respect to political ads.

How does the political ad landscape in swing states compare to other areas of the country?

In the presidential race, it’s simple. If you live in a battleground state, you are probably sick of hearing candidates approve their message by now. If you don’t live in a battleground state, you are being ignored. The only exception is one particularly interesting feature of media markets across the country—they don’t always line up with state boundaries. So some voters in non-battleground states (like Maine or Massachusetts) see ads because of their proximity to battleground states (like New Hampshire, which is covered in part by the Portland, ME and Boston media markets).

Of course, House and Senate races are a lot broader geographically, so voters in lots of places across the country are seeing ads in competitive congressional races.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned so far in the 2012 election through this project?

The level of outside spending is astonishingly high. 44% of all pro-Romney ads in October and 33% of all Senate Republican ads in October have come from outside groups. Obama, by contrast, has aired in October about 86% of the ads that support his candidacy. But in comparison to 2008, the level of pro-Obama ads coming from outside groups has risen from about 4% to about 14%. We never expected to see so many congressional candidates, and a major presidential candidate, so dependent on outside spending.

Have you seen anything noteworthy in the Massachusetts Senate race, where the candidates agreed not to allow outside groups to advertise?

That’s what’s interesting. The Brown-Warren pact set up ground rules for trying to prevent outside groups from airing television ads. That’s seemed to work so far. Of course, there are loopholes in the agreement, and outside spending is fairly aggressive in that race, just off the air. We’ve been surprised, though, that the two candidates were able to work out an agreement that made it difficult for groups to air ads during the race. It could conceivably be a model for future races, though it requires both candidates to sign on—and that’s the sticking point.

Does any part of your project involve speaking with the general voting public about their experience with TV ads? If so, what have you found?

We love talking about our work to the general voting public. We generally find that voters express exhaustion at the level of ads on television. Our response, though, is a bit of a defense of such ads. Political ads are still one of the only ways for candidates to speak to a wide spectrum of the public at the same time. Increasingly, voters are consuming less news through television and in print form, and they are getting their news in much more partisan places (especially online). Ads are attempts to speak to all voters, and they can sometimes be the only place for a Republican voter to hear what the Democratic candidate has to say, and vice versa.

Are there any non-political applications for what you’re doing?

One particularly neat application would be to look at the level and intensity of ads for pharmaceuticals. Anyone who watches the nightly national news understands that ads for prescription drugs are almost as ubiquitous as ads for candidates. It would be interesting to compare the frequency of such ads to the demographics of the programs on which they air; and even to see if sales of drugs rise and fall with the frequency of ads.

Partisans Love Policy

PPP Chart Number Five

The last time we checked in on The Three P’s, the final presidential debate had just taken place. That very issue-oriented discussion gave Policy a nice spike in social media, but we weren’t sure how long it would last.

As the graph above shows, it lasted about a day, an emerging pattern. Politics - the horse race - tends to have the greatest share of the social conversation. But occasionally, when either Policy or Personality gets a boost from a specific event such as a debate, it takes the lead for about one day. Then it’s back to Politics, as usual.

Our latest analysis also brings a surprise. For the four-week period shown in the graph, we isolated the social comments of people we’ve previously identified as either strongly Pro-Obama or Pro-Romney (classified as such based on their own previous public comments about the candidates). These are large groups, with tens of thousands in each one.

For these relatively partisan people, we found that during this period Policy had the greatest share of the commentary. As the chart below shows, partisans gave Policy a 48% share of the conversation. Yet among all election commenters, Policy had just a 42% share, while Politics was on top at 44%.

In other words, the very citizens one might expect to be the most political of all, and therefore the most interested in the horse race, turned out to be even more engaged by Policy.

How to explain this? The 6% gap between the two groups isn’t huge, but something has to be driving it. We’re just not sure what. We know partisans tuned in heavily to the debates, which were very issue-driven, and this presumably shaped their comments. Still, it doesn’t explain why they would talk about Policy more than everyone else responding to the same televised exchanges.

If a better explanation emerges as we continue tracking The Three Ps, we’ll let you know.

Partisans Like Policy - Graphic

Talk, Talk, Talk. . .But Who’s Listening?

Retweeting in Debates - Chart

We’ve been documenting the explosion of the election conversation over the last two months. The three presidential debates alone sparked more than 30 million tweets and public Facebook comments.

That’s a lot of talking. But is the social crowd doing more than just talking? After all, if this is a true conversation, there has to be some listening involved. Are all those tweeters also listening to each other?

In fact, many people only listen in social media. Twitter says 40 percent of its users never tweet. How does Twitter know this? They see these folks signing on and not commenting. They must be going on Twitter to read what others are saying. But determining how much and what they’re reading is a challenge. It’s easy to sign on to a network, then get distracted and leave it open on your screen behind other tasks. Some of the silent 40 percent might not listen very much.

Then there’s the majority that does tweet. How many of them also take the time to read and consider others’ expressions?Maher Retweet Comment C

There is one way that people reveal they’ve read others’ comments: retweets, or the forwarding of others’ tweets to one’s own followers. Most retweets are preceded by at least a few seconds of reading (the exceptions would be tweets that are blindly retweeted in order, say, to boost someone’s exposure on Twitter). Thus, retweets offer a basic glimpse into how much people on Twitter are taking in others’ points of view.

So we set out to analyze retweet behavior during the debates. And since women in key states are the most sought-after voters in this election, we thought it would be interesting to see if listening habits vary by gender.

As the chart shows, a significant percentage of those who tweeted and posted about the debates also retweeted the remarks of others. The portion who did so ranged from 41% (Debate 2) to 52% (Debate 1). It makes sense that the debate that had the greatest impact on the race would also have the most retweeters. Astounded by what was unfolding, some viewers would have been eager to see if others shared their perceptions, and in certain cases, to share what they’d read. A few of the most widely retweeted comments from the last debate are shown here.

Trump Retweet Bin Laden

But the real surprise is the gender breakdown: Women retweeted at significantly higher rates than men. In the first debate, there was an 18 percentage-point difference between the two.

Are women just better listeners? Or is there something about this election that’s making them listen more? Perhaps those undecided female swing voters who have gotten so much attention lately are just trying to make up their minds.

Now This: Social Politics, Animated

Who are Romney’s supporters? Who are Obama’s? How do they live? Where do they shop? What do they like to eat and drink?

These questions intrigued us, and we didn’t know the answers. So we spent the last few months combing tweets and public Facebook posts looking for people who were clearly pro-Obama or pro-Romney. We found a lot of them, tens of thousands in each group. Then, using Bluefin Labs tools, we analyzed their past comments and learned a great deal about their tastes and lifestyles. 

To tell the story, we got together with the talented folks at Now This News, who made a terrific animated video showing the results. It debuted today on The Atlantic’s website, accompanied by a smart explanatory piece by Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg.


Three P’s UPDATE: Last Debate a Policy Fest

PPP Udate Chart - Post Debate Three

In our previous Three P’s post, we reported that Policy has been having a nice run. Hours later, the final presidential debate took Policy’s share of the election conversation to a new high. Note the spike at the far right end of the chart.

Will this debate resonate in the coming days and keep Policy on top? We’ll take another look soon and let you know.

Meanwhile, to get a flavor of what drove this policy-fest, here are the words most frequently used in tweets and posts about the debate, listed in order of frequency. Is the social sphere just for frivolous chatter? You decide:

romney, obama, debate, mitt, president, policy, foreign, vote, america, people, back, israel, china, presidential, debates, years, iran, talking, plan, mr, question, bin, laden, bayonets, military, governor, horses, jobs, barack, teachers, bob, foot, point, voting, left, war, moderator, fact, potus, stomp, country

Big is the New Small: Our Debate Wrap

Debate Three Recap

It would be easy to call presidential debate No. 3 a social-media flop. Too easy. Its 8 million tweets and public Facebook posts look small in comparison to the previous two debates, but this conversation was very large compared to nearly everything else. 

Just last month, the 2.5 million tweets and posts sparked by the Democratic National Convention made headlines. Today, it’s a blip. That’s how quickly the social conversation about politics is growing. Collectively, the debates have been a landmark in that growth. Key Facts:

      Making the Lists: The final debate was the third most commented-on political telecast ever, behind the other two debates, and the seventh most commented-on telecast of any kind (more stats from Bluefin Labs here).

      • Policy Over Sports: This debate was competing for viewers with two major sports events, Monday Night Football and Game 7 of baseball’s National League playoffs. Though sports is a magnet for social comments, the two sports conversations were miniscule in comparison to the debate. The election face-off accounted for 79% percent of all social commentary about the evening’s primetime TV. A foreign-policy debate over sports? Further confirmation of social media’s wonkish tendencies.

Policy Over Sports

       • Seriously: Like the previous debates, this one was mostly about serious policy matters, and the social response appeared to mirror this. Even the viral phrases were weightier. After Big Bird and binders full of women, #horsesandbayonets is positively brainy. For the exact breakdown of how politics, policy and personality fared in the debate response, watch for our Three P’s update.

       • More Romney Mentions: In all three debates, Romney was mentioned more often that Obama. This does not imply that he won over more viewers. Social mentions can go either way.

      • Women: In all three debates, a majority of the comments came from females. This was unexpected, given that males dominated the social response to the earlier GOP primary debates and the Republican National Convention. With women widely viewed as the deciding factor in this election, it’s significant that they’re now tuning in and speaking up more than men, if only marginally.