Social Studies: Obama vs. Romney

Social networking was not yet a mainstream campaigning tool in 2008. This election year, we can compare the social media presence of the presidential candidates for lessons in what to do and not to do.

Debra Donston-Miller, Contributor

September 11, 2012

9 Slides

If the 2008 presidential race was the first in which social networking played a role, then the 2012 presidential campaign has had social written all over it. During the 2008 race, then-Sen. Barack Obama made extensive use of technology, but social networking had not yet become mainstream.

In January 2008, a study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Internet & American Life Project on campaign news and political communication showed that one in five Americans overall (22%) used an online social networking site, and that "these sites may be playing an important political role for some people, especially the young." The study noted that the use of social networking sites for political activity was far less common among older voters, "even those in their 30s."

In the four years since, Facebook and Twitter have become household names, and new social networks--including Google+ and Pinterest--have not only risen up but gained significant ground.

In a study conducted at the beginning of this year, the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 36% of social networking site users say the sites are "very important" or "somewhat important" to them in keeping up with political news, while 25% say the sites are "very important" or "somewhat important" to them in finding other people who share their views about important political issues. In these and other activities the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project queried subjects about, Democrats who use social networking sites are more likely than Republicans or independents to say the sites are important.

In the battle for the Oval Office between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, social networking has played a key role. President Obama, for example, recently hosted a Q&A session on Reddit. Social networking platforms are spreading news, gaining followers and swaying opinion--about the candidates and their positions, but also the people, places, and things in the candidates' orbits. Clint Eastwood's now-infamous chair bit during the Republican National Convention, for instance, generated a high of 7,044 tweets per minute, according to Twitter.

Social networking is gaining similar influence and application in businesses from all industries and sizes. The BrainYard examined the social media presence of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in a bi-partisan way--not to declare a "winner," but to look for lessons businesses can learn from the candidates' campaigns in the effective use of external social networking platforms. Although the candidates have presence on a variety of social networking platforms, we focused our attention on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. (Site-specific stats are current at press time and will likely have changed, at least a bit, by the time you read this.)

About the Author(s)

Debra Donston-Miller


Freelance writer Debra Donston-Miller was previously editor of eWEEK and executive editorial manager of eWEEK Labs. She can be reached at [email protected].

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