As Netroots Rising discusses, it’s been about a decade now since political blogging really started getting big. As for Facebook, that really got going after 2006, when it opened up beyond college students. YouTube actually had its first, big political breakthrough hit in August 2006, with the infamous “macaca” video. And Twitter started taking off in 2008, although I’d argue that it’s really in the past couple years that Twitter’s gone truly big-time in terms of the political world.
Regardless of when they got going and “took off,” all of these social media tools are now highly popular, with tens if not hundreds of millions of users. They are also highly utilized by major political campaigns. For instance, Barack Obama has nearly 20 million Twitter followers (Romney has 1.1 million); 28 million Facebook “likes” (Romney has 6.9 million), and 224,712 YouTube subscribers (Romney has 18,497.
Closer to home, Tim Kaine has 15,266 Twitter followers (Allen has 5,806), 25,462 Facebook “likes” (Allen has 54,244), and 116 YouTube subscribers (That’s not very much, although Allen only has 100 YouTube subscribers, so neither is exactly a viral video sensation!).
What about Virginia’s Congressional candidates? This one’s a bit hard to evaluate, as incumbents often have been around a long time and have followings for their official Congressional accounts, not so much for their political campaigns. Thus, to some extent, we’re comparing apples to oranges on this one. So let’s mostly focus on challengers and see how they’re doing. A few key findings jumped out at me.
First, among Democratic challengers, social media followings are generally low all around, with the exception of 7th CD candidate Wayne Powell (2,499 Twitter followers; 13,397 Facebook “likes”). Other than that, YouTube views on their channels are minimal to nonexistent (although it’s worth noting that Andy Schmookler had a hit that wasn’t on his own channel). As for Twitter, other than Wayne Powell, the other Democratic challengers range from just 46 followers for 10th CD candidate Kristin Cabral (and she’s only tweeted twice – total) to 67 followers for Ella Ward, 173 followers for Andy Schmookler, 183 followers for John Douglass, 191 followers for Paul Hirschbiel, 200 followers for Anthony Flaccavento, and 350 followers for Adam Cook. In short, Democratic challengers – other than Powell – have minimal Twitter presences, either in terms of followers or number of tweets (exceptions on the latter metric: Powell has tweeted 972 times and Schmookler 532 times).
In contrast to Democratic challengers, their Republican opponents have much larger Twitter followings, ranging as high as 81,267 for Eric Cantor; 9,200 for Rob Wittman; 8,283 for Randy Forbes; 5,543 for Scott Rigell; 5,477 for Bob Goodlatte; 1,708 for Frank Wolf; and 1,251 for Robert Hurt. So, to the extent this matters – and that’s a big question, does any of this matter, and if so, to what extent? – Democratic challengers are getting their clocks cleaned by their Republican opponents, on Twitter at least.
As for Facebook, a similar pattern exists, with minimal followings for Democratic challengers, with the exceptions of Wayne Powell (13,397 “likes”) and Andy Schmookler (1,742 “likes”). Other than that, they’re all under 1,000 Facebook “likes,” with three candidates – Cabral, Cook and Ward – under 400, and two candidates – Douglass and Hirschbiel – under 800. In all cases, Republican incumbents are ahead, usually WAYYYY ahead, of their Democratic challengers on Facebook, with one exception: Frank Wolf has only 436 Facebook followers. Again, the question is, does any of this matter? To the extent that it does, Democratic challengers aren’t looking good.
Finally, YouTube’s been almost a complete non factor for Virginia Congressional challengers this year. It’s certainly not that people aren’t watching YouTube for politics – e.g., Bill Clinton’s DNC speech has millions of views – but they’re certainly not tuning in for Virginia Congressional candidates, at least not the challengers. Why is that? I’m not sure exactly, but perhaps people don’t see these races as competitive, ergo interesting, and thus aren’t tuning in?
One last observation: I’ve seen a few Virginia Democratic congressional challengers – Powell, Schmookler, Douglass – relatively active on the progressive blogs (mostly Blue Virginia and Daily Kos). The others, though, have been mostly invisible (note: Flaccavento and Cook both did interviews with Blue Virginia; I haven’t seen much, if anything, on the blogs from Cabral, Hirschbiel and Ward).
Bottom line: I’m not sure if there are any profound conclusions to draw here, other than that Virginia Democratic Congressional challengers – with the possible exception of Wayne Powell – have not been putting a lot of resources into building their social media presences this cycle, and/or haven’t been getting a great deal of return on whatever investments they HAVE put in. I don’t know about you, but this seems a bit odd to me, given the tremendous investment that Obama, Romney, Kaine and Allen have put into social media, given that this stuff isn’t exactly new anymore, and given how many people use social media these days. Maybe the thinking is that social media isn’t worth the investment at the congressional level, or maybe these candidates simply don’t understand how to use it, or both? If so, it seems to me that these assumptions are (highly) erroneous, especially given that the alternative – paid advertising, mostly – is extremely expensive, whereas social media mostly just takes time and effort. Any thoughts?
P.S. I should mention that Republican 11th CD challenger Chris Perkins is essentially nonexistent on Facebook and Twitter, while 8th CD Republican Patrick Murray is relatively active (although of course he’s going to get crushed, for good reason, by Rep. Jim Moran).