Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Bevin's social-media advantage helped make him the winner, Senate president says

By Lauren Allen and John Winn Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
This story has been updated, as indicated.

If social-media engagement is any indication, Republican Matt Bevin should win won the governor’s race partly with a big advantage on social media, state Senate President Robert Stivers said last night.by a landslide. But while social media were such an indicator for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election, it remains to be seen whether that will hold true in Kentucky, political experts say.

Stivers made the comment in an interview on KET's election-night coverage. He couldn't be reached for further comment.

Bevin followed the lead of the leader of the opposite party. In 2012, against Republican Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama “logged twice as many Facebook 'likes' and nearly 20 times as many re-tweets as Romney, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, wrote on The Media Psychology Blog. “With his existing social media base and spreadable content, Obama had far superior reach.” 

Bevin’s campaign apparently got the message, because the Louisville businessman was far more active on social media during the governor’s race than his two opponents, with 50,000 Facebook likes and 12,000 Twitter followers.

Next in line is independent candidate Drew Curtis with 27,000 Facebook likes and 13,600 Twitter Followers.  That is not a surprise, given Curtis’ background as founder of a successful news-aggregation site.

Lagging far behind is Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway with 14,000 Facebook likes and 5,500 Twitter followers.

Social media are becoming greater indicators of election results because so many American adults are online now and get their news from social media.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found in 2012 that 60 percent of adults use some form of social media, and a study released this year by The American Press Institute found that "88 percent of millennials (ages 18-34) get news from Facebook regularly."

The Pew study also found that more than a third of millennials on social media have shared political information and urged followers to vote.

Obama’s campaign team took advantage of that communications channel.

“As of election night, President Obama had 32 million Facebook fans, 21 million Twitter followers, and 259,685 YouTube views,” Daniel Burrus, a best-selling author on future trends and CEO of Burrus Associates, wrote on his blog. “On the other hand, Mitt Romney had 12 million Facebook fans, 1.7 million Twitter followers, and only 29,172 YouTube views.”

Burrus concluded that if the Romney camp made a mistake by not being more aggressive on social media. “Did social media make a difference in the outcome of the election? When you have a close race, everything matters. So with that in mind, I would answer yes,” he wrote.

Social media may not have as big an impact in the governor’s race, said Stephen Voss, associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.

“People who are cut off from other sources of political information and only receive their political 
tidbits through social media are the same people who are going to vote rarely if at all,” Voss said.

This group of people is not typically involved in the community or politics, he said, which could likely be the reason they do not see the importance of voting or even know there is an election.
Where social media can play a crucial role, Voss added, is in “immediacy.”

Because of the immediate impact social media can have, political campaigns can respond to anything that is thrown their way instantly through Facebook, Twitter or any other social media, Voss said.

That immediacy is one thing that convinced Curtis, founder of the irreverent news site fark.com, to run despite being a political unknown.

“I based my run on a theory: that the Internet and social media have finally made it possible for a third party candidate to win,” he wrote for Wired magazine in an essay published on election eve. “Regardless of how things turn out, I’m convinced I was absolutely correct. And I’m also convinced you’ll see more candidates like me in the near future.”

Curtis wrote that even journalists he’s talked to around the state “don’t feel they’re influencing the race much. They think that social media and the Internet in general have replaced the job they used to do.”

While it hard to measure how much influence social media will have on the election compared to television, it is clear that mixing the two is not garnering much interest.

When Conway posts his television commercials on social media, he only gets an average of 15 shares or retweets. This does not include his paid Facebook posts, which have 3,500 shares. The last advertisement that Bevin posted got 55 retweets and 212 shares on Facebook.

The candidates also exhibit different styles on their social-media accounts.

On the Facebook account Matt Bevin for Kentucky Governor in 2015 (which has 8,000 likes), the campaign posts frequently with links to Bevin’s campaign website and news about his appearances. Bevin’s main Facebook account is generally in first person and has posts directly on Facebook rather than links to sites. His Tweets are similar to his Facebook posts, just simplified for the 140 character limit. Bevin also participates in Twitter such talks as #coalpowersKY with the Kentucky Coal Association. The most personal post on his Twitter is a happy 14th birthday message to his daughter, Olivia.

Curtis gets more personal on his business page, posting things like “#MexicoSucks #mexvusa.” This was shared from his Twitter like most of his direct posts. He also frequently interacts with readers who post comments.

Conway posts many pictures of his appearances and links to articles about him and his running partner state Rep. Sannie Overly. Some of these posts are written in first person and some of them are in second person. His Twitter account has extremely similar posts, but they are designed particularly for that social media outlet. These tweets get an average of five retweets and favorites.

What all of this will mean for the Nov. 3 election is anybody’s guess. But the headline over Curtis’ Wired article made clear what he thinks the future will hold: “Someday technology will end our dumb two party system.”

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