How significant is it for a political candidate to have a large number of social media followers? As this article from the Wharton School at my alma matter, the University of Pennsylvania, argues, “social media has changed the game, allowing incumbents and newcomers alike to speak directly to constituents on everything from policy to what they had for dinner.” But more to the point, the study asks, “Is there any benefit to communicating on channels like Twitter?” The answer:
A new study co-authored by Yildirim offers some answers. “Social Media and Political Contributions: The Impact of New Technology on Political Competition,” written with Maria Petrova and Ananya Sen, finds that political newcomers can get a substantial boost in support by using social media channels, which cost next to nothing and are easily tapped by anyone with an internet connection. The finding is important because it indicates how social media can help level the playing field in politics, where money and access to formal communication channels pose huge barriers to new entrants.
“Within the first month of using Twitter, politicians were able to raise between 1% and 3% of what they would have raised in a two-year traditional campaign. But that gain flowed almost exclusively to newcomers, not incumbents…Beyond communicating their policy views, new candidates can humanize themselves through their social media accounts, and that helps voters feel more connected to them. For example, former Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg introduced his shelter dogs to his 2 million Twitter followers, while U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren used her Instagram account to chat live with supporters who made small contributions to her presidential campaign…You don’t have to have the big money, big bucks, big fundraisers, big supporters to be able to communicate on Twitter with your constituency and tell them about what your ideas are for the future.”
In general, I’d argue that social media give a politician the ability to disseminate/amplify their message, unfiltered by the media. So yes, social media matters, but how MUCH it matters is debatable. Still, I think it’s one interesting metric to look at, along with how much money candidates are raising, how they’re doing in the polls, etc., to get a rough idea for how strong a candidacy might be.
With that, here’s a first look at the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial candidates – as listed on VPAP, plus Del. Lee Carter, who announced yesterday (on Twitter, appropriately enough) that he’s seriously considering a run for governor. In short, what I found was:
- On Twitter, Del. Lee Carter’s got by far the most followers, at 103,573, with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe next at 70,227, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax at 31,472, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy at 18,921 and State Sen. Jennifer McClellan at 12,866. Trailing all those Democratic candidates are Republicans State Sen. Amanda Chase (6,950) and Del. Kirk Cox (5,104). Clearly, the Democratic candidates are much more active on Twitter than the Republican candidates…
- On Facebook, in contrast, it’s State Senator Amanda Chase (R) in the lead at 133,580, followed by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe at 100,935…and then a big jump down to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax at 23,380, Del. Kirk Cox at 10,080, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy at 8,688, Sen. Jennifer McClellan at 6,936 and Del. Lee Carter at 5,302.
- It’s interesting how Amanda Chase is #1 on Facebook but second to last on Twitter. Conversely, Lee Carter is #1 on Twitter but last on Facebook. Very different mediums, I guess, for very different audiences. Although Terry McAuliffe actually is strong on both Twitter and Facebook, as is Justin Fairfax to a lesser extent. As for Del. Kirk Cox, for a guy who was Virginia Speaker, he doesn’t have a particularly strong social media game…