November 16, 2012

The Final Days of the Media Campaign 2012

Social Media on Election Day

Election Day 2012 was one of the busiest ever in the world of social media. Twitter reported that the election was the most tweeted-about event in U.S. political history. There were more than 31 million tweets sent, with a peak of 327,452 tweets per minute shortly after the television networks called the race for Obama.

Facebook also reached new levels as Election Day chatter set a record for U.S. users in 2012. According to the site’s own internal analytical tool called Talk Meter, the day scored a 9.27 on a 10-point scale. By comparison, the 2008 election scored an 8.95.

What was the nature of all this Election Day conversation?

The focus of the discussions differed by platform. For Twitter, users shared real-time vote results gleaned from other sources while they also expressed their personal opinions and voting experiences. Facebook messages were dominated by political expressions and calls for others to partake in their civic duty. And blogs were also used to convey information, but were less about real-time news as they were about larger stories. Blogs also included more focus on the meaning and results of the election for time going forward.

Twitter

Twitter, with its length restrictions and ease of real-time posting, encourages a fast-paced conversation that reacts quickly to events. Consequently, the two biggest types of usage of Twitter on Election Day were personal reactions to political events (28%) and the relaying of voting results as they came in (25%).

Users were eager to share their feelings about the election and candidates, often in a negative light.

"It’s bad when you can’t trust either candidate," shared Rob Warwick.

"I hate this election stuff. If romney wins I feel like its going to change my life in a terrible way," feared Irene Costello.[1]

Others used Twitter to share vote results as they came in-often relying on television news as their original source. Many of those tweets were accompanied by the author’s reaction.

"Fox news calls KY and IN for Romney. 2 down 55 to go!!!" shared @ConManBO early in the evening.

"Looking at these percentages on CNN. The youth vote definitely went to Obama this year. Great sign," explained @ccthagod.

There was one element of conversation on Twitter that was not seen nearly as much on the other platforms: messages related to the process of voting (16%). Some users shared their personal experiences with voting, even while waiting in lines. Also, as the day wore on, a common refrain from a number of activists was for voters to "stay in line" even if the polling places had closed.

As the NAACP tweeted to its followers, "Remember to stay in line – you can NOT be turned away if you are in line before the polls close."

Facebook

Half of the assertions on Facebook were expressions of feelings about the election or candidates, geared primarily to their friends, far more than the other social media outlets.

"So amp up right now.. let’s get it Obama 2012.. I’m ready for change!!!" posted Brittany Ojeda in the late afternoon.

"I feel great now that my vote is counted for Romney/Ryan," expressed Roger Heffner.

The reactions became even stronger after the election was called for Obama.

"Very disappointed in america tonight. I guess ill just sit on the couch and watch him turn us into greece. Im done voting, theres no point anymore," shared Michael Erga.

"Signed…..sealed…..delivered, he is Our President !!!!!!!! President Obama," cheered Kim Lincoln.

More than the other social media platforms, messages aimed at encouraging others to vote made up 17% of the Facebook conversation. In general, the posts were less about specific plans to help people reach the polls and more about calls to action as a civic duty.

"Vote today and we’ll get the president we deserve!!" wrote Jeremy Shearer early in the morning.

"Today is election day. Get out and vote. I don’t care who you vote for, just vote. Too many men and women have died protecting your right to vote for you not to," echoed Ryan McIntyre.

Blogs

The blogosphere tended to be a space for more reflection on Election Day. More than a third (36%) of the conversation on blogs involved conveying information such as voting results or actions taken by the candidates. Some of those posts included up-to-the-minute results. However, unlike with Twitter, blogs were also used to give a wider perspective.

Many bloggers posted excerpts from wire reports about the election after it had concluded, while others shared portions of Obama’s acceptance speech. Some, such as Contacto Latino News, shared news stories such as one highlighting the fact that Obama spent part of his election day playing basketball with former NBA players.

Another important component of blogs, at 11%, consisted of post-mortem reactions and summaries of what the meaning of the election would be. In the hours after Obama was declared the winner, a number of bloggers began discussing why Romney lost and what it would mean for the Republican Party.

"What a slap in the face for the Tea Party. I am sure that there are already people claiming that Barack Obama won because Mitt Romney wasn’t conservative enough. He may not be conservative enough, but that is not why he lost," surmised The Turner Report. "When the candidate who survives the primaries is the only one who could not launch a successful attack on Obamacare (because it was his idea), then you know how poor the field of candidates was."

Other bloggers gave suggestions on why Obama was victorious.

"I am soo glad this is over," wrote Nic Rellek at Streamz of Conscousness & MadConceptz. "Things were looking touch and go for a minute there but President Obama’s incredible ground game held true and the polling held up and here we are. They mocked his community organizer background. Seems like that’s the perfect skill set to have to win two terms."

Topics Social Media Did Not Discuss

Two areas of discussion were not as prevalent on social media as some might have anticipated. First, while many users relied on more traditional media for getting their results, discussion about the media was a relatively small component of the conversation in general. On Twitter, 9% was devoted to critiques of the media compared to 6% on Facebook and 5% on blogs.

Second, there were very few conversations focused on accusations of mischief or improper voting practices. Despite receiving prominent attention on a number of the most well-read political blogs, these issues did not have much of a presence in the social media realm. In both Twitter and Facebook, less than 1% of the conversation focused on such improprieties, while the number was 6% for blogs.

For example, a number of conservative blogs reported on the presence of Black Panthers at polling places in Pennsylvania, suggesting their intent was to intimidate voters. By 9 a.m. ET, this was the lead story on Breitbart.com, and was featured prominently on both Redstate.com and the Drudge Report within hours. Some liberal sites, such as the Huffington Post, posted a YouTube video said to be of a touch screen voting machine in Pennsylvania that changed an intended vote for Obama to one for Romney.

Despite the significance that these popular blogs placed on these and other allegations throughout Election Day, discussion of them did not permeate the world of social media.


Footnote:

[1] For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from online postings.

Cite this publication: Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project Staff. “The Final Days of the Media Campaign 2012.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (November 19, 2012) http://www.journalism.org/2012/11/19/final-days-media-campaign-2012/, accessed on July 23, 2014.