The important new role of blogs in analyzing and predicting election results is clear, according to two experts whose Web site has been monitored by many presidential candidates’ campaigns this year. They say changes in the amount of blog coverage given to a candidate have been a major indicator of whether votes were swinging toward that candidate and who would ultimately win. They are already predicting a winner based on their observations.
“Obama currently has a 30- to 40-percent higher buzz share than McCain, meaning that he is being written about much more in the blogs that our site monitors,” says Kevin Dooley, an internationally recognized expert who teaches at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University (ASU). “I think this is predictive of an Obama win because two-thirds of those blogs are conservative. It means conservative bloggers are focused on Obama and not promoting McCain. At the same time, liberal bloggers are still covering Obama, demonstrating a much stronger base support for him, which will probably translate into a higher voter turnout.”
Dooley and Professor Steve Corman of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences created Wonkosphere.com. The Web site analyzes more than 1,500 liberal, conservative and independent blogs to measure how much candidates are being blogged about and whether the tone is positive or negative. Dooley and Corman originally conceived the site as a way to demonstrate text-scanning technology that they developed with funding from ASU and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
Dooley says they have strong indications that about two-thirds of the presidential candidates’ campaigns were monitoring Wonkosphere during election season, including the Clinton, McCain, Romney, Biden and Huckabee campaigns. They have noticed several trends through the site.
“For example, some of the campaigns would use blogs and other social media to test out certain policies and framing of those messages,” says Corman. “By listening to the blogs that supported them and other, larger blogs, candidates could better understand how the general public would react to phrases and ideas. Obama, Edwards, Huckabee and Romney’s campaigns seemed especially sensitive to the buzz.”
Also, Dooley noted that changes in the polling numbers corresponded to activity in blogs.
“We would see a big increase in buzz share about a candidate, and then two to three weeks later, that candidate would get a bump in the national polls,” says Dooley. “In McCain’s case, conservative blogs shifted toward him in late December last year, a few weeks before he rose in the polls. However, he hasn’t been the focus of these bloggers since then. In fact, his name isn’t even mentioned on the home page of the Republican National Committee’s Web site right now, except in a drop-down menu. This indicates trouble.”
They also noticed an important emerging media trend.
“Blogs often pick up mainstream media stories and keep them going in the public eye, but now mainstream journalists are also deciding what to pick up from the bloggers,” Corman says. “The blogs can be used to figure out whether a story has legs. If a story hangs around for about a week in the blogs, then it will likely show up in the mainstream media.”
Dooley adds that sometimes bloggers even have a jump on the mainstream press on major stories. He says, “For example, on the day Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate, five or six bloggers were running stories about a plane that flew in from a city in Alaska. They tracked down who the plane belonged to and linked the story to a representative with the Republican National Committee and then Palin… all five to seven hours before the mainstream media started to think it was Palin.”
Corman adds another example of “Joe the Plumber,” a man who got attention during the final presidential debate by asking the candidates to explain their small business policies and saying he eventually wants to buy the plumbing business where he works.
“Within minutes, bloggers were combing public databases, learning that he didn’t have a plumber’s license or a contractor’s license. It took the mainstream media days to catch up,” Corman says.
In the final analysis, Dooley also has a theory about one reason McCain is having such a tough time in this last stretch of the election season. “McCain was never really vetted by the bloggers during primary season. Candidates need to go through that kind of struggle within the party before trying to get independent and other voters. Obama got vetted by liberal bloggers during the primaries, and that has allowed for big fundraising and moving forward now.”
If buzz share continues to be as accurate as it was during primary season, that means Obama will be moving forward into the White House.
Debbie Freeman, Debbie.Freeman@asu.edu
Communications Manager, W. P. Carey School of Business