Gingrich, Romney lead GOP social media polls

by karlhenk

Niles, Ohio — During the 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama smoked his competitor, Sen. John McCain, in more ways than one, including an area that had never before had an impact on the presidency — social media.

The young, tech-savvy voters were a driving force behind Obama’s presidential victory. According to this snapshot taken three years ago, Obama had nearly 380 percent more social media followers than McCain.

McCain has since taken a liking to Twitter, but it’s a remorseful case of too little, too late.

When it comes to Republicans in 2012, the party knows it needs a leader with a strong social media following and the ability to keep up with the latest trends.

How are they doing so far?

Not great.

During last Wednesday’s CNBC/GOP Debate, I compiled the total number of Facebook “Likes” and Twitter “followers” for each of the eight GOP candidates. (YouTube could be included, but most videos are distributed through Facebook and Twitter.)

The results, which you can see below, don’t differ much from the most recent polls. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich lead in the real-life and social media polls. The candidates have a combined 5 million followers; Obama has more than 11 million just on Twitter.

Remember, these figures were from a single snapshot in time. Like any poll, figures can change quickly. It’s also important to note that there is a reciprocity between a candidate’s success and the number of social media followers. If former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman had a campaign that was dedicated to social media, he may have a better standing in the polls. By the same token, if he had a better standing in the polls, he would have more social media followers.

But why exactly is a social media following important in politics?

For starters, it’s free advertising. Obama can tweet a YouTube video to 11 million people; no Republican candidate can match that. And Obama’s 11 million followers can help the president reach a greater number of nonfollowers through the retweet function.

This is especially crucial when GOP candidates Huntsman, Herman Cain, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Gingrich have all struggled with finances at some point during their campaigns.

Many are projecting social media to be a big determinant of America’s next president.

If today is any indication, and if social media is the determining factor, Obama will get re-elected with ease.

Follow Karl Henkel on Twitter, friend him on Facebook.