Elementary school algebra shows that social media has nearly zero impact on elections: Obama has 7 times more Facebook fans than Mitt Romney (28 million vs. 4 million), yet he is ahead by only 3% in national polls. A survey from USA Today unearths new evidence why Obama’s Facebook army is all bark and no bite: non-voters favor him two-to-one. This new evidence lends support to the argument we’ve made before that there are three kinds of people who bother following a politician on Facebook (none of whom are swing voters): reliable supporters, opposition spectators, and the growing demographic of non-voting 20-somethings.
To be clear, the last group is still civically active: according to the survey, 2/3 of these citizens are actually registered to vote and 80% feel that government has an impact on their lives. But as Political Science Professor, Russel Dalton, has found, this group prefers non-institutional action. They tweet, read the news, facebook, share YouTube videos, and protest, but they don’t like to vote, or work with political parties. And, because a large slice of them are young, in 2008, had noone under the age of 30 voted, Obama still would have won ever state but two.
Media outlets seem to struggle with interpreting the numbers. Buzzfeed, for instance, made a valiant attempt at arguing that Facebook follower count was less important than the number of people actively engaged, noting that slightly more people are “talking about” Mitt Romney’s fan page than Obama. Unfortunately, what they’re saying about Romney isn’t very nice, nor is it indicative of the education level of someone who turns out to the voting booth. Exhibit A: the quote below was literally the first comment that was shown to me on Romney’s page:
“these right wing retards keep talking about the obama econemy… where have they been. do they not see what congress has done for the past 2 years? no president can do anything with a congress that beliongs in prison for obstruction.”
This is not to say that social media is totally irrelevant. It can help underdogs get much-needed buzz outside of the mainstream media (like the once-scrappy Senator Obama). But, if social media really did make a difference on the big issues Ron Paul would be the Republican nominee, Chick-fil-A would be bankrupt, Occupy Wall Street would be as powerful as the Tea Party, and Marijuana would be legal.
As far as the research goes, if you want to make a real impact on the election, get outside with an old-fashioned clipboard and knock on doors. Nothing beats face-to-face conversation for bringing people to the voting booth.