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The last UK election was touted by many as the first ‘truly social’ vote. There’s some truth to this, given the huge growth in uptake of social networks from 2005 to 2010, improvements to internet access and consumer awareness of these channels.

Plus, there was influence from the party leaders themselves as most of them tried to emulate the success of Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Now in the US, just a day ahead of the Iowa caucuses (widely accepted as the first major electoral event in the run-up to the presidential election) the same prediction is being wheeled out again. Where Obama blazed a trail, others now seek to follow.

But according to ClickZ money supporting and opposing presidential hopefuls has yet to flow online in a major way, as some expected.

However, pro-Ron Paul group Endorse Liberty is one independent expenditure group that is spending big on online advertising. The group, which officially registered with the Federal Election Commission just before Christmas, appears to be throwing its entire ad budget online.

According to FEC reports, the organisation spent more than $207,000 on Google search ads and Facebook ads between December 21 and December 28. Just over $3,250 of that pot went to Facebook, with the remainder going to Google.

But unlike Obama’s use of Facebook to primarily drum up support and fundraise, the intent of Endorse’s campaign is to also educate voters on the best way to back his candidacy in other states. 

UK-based social measurement company Sociagility analysed the popularity, receptiveness, interaction, network reach and trust of candidates across different social media channels using its context-driven PRINT methodology, normally applied to commercial brands.

Ron Paul’s campaign website and YouTube channel, and Newt Gingrich’s Twitter and Facebook profiles, proved the most effective. Paul achieved the best interaction, network and trust scores, while Gingrich’s social media presence demonstrated the highest level of receptiveness.

The company also discovered close correlation between candidates’ social media profiles and voting intention, in Iowa and nationally by using the most recent polling data from Public Policy Polling.

It also found an equally positive correlation between national voting intention and an effective Facebook page.

But haven’t we heard this all before in terms of linking social media to voting preference?

Yes, people who are active within social media will often use their profiles to display badges or show support, but this is isn't an ideal benchmark. Even in the UK, which has a reasonably high saturation of internet and social media use, it wasn't ideal for 2010's election. Cameron appeared far more popular online than his competitors, yet we still ended up with a hung parliament.

The US is an even bigger ship to turn, with those using social media unlikely to fully represent voters accurately - both in terms of demographic and from state to state.

However, US polling is still largely carried out by telephone to gauge voter support, so perhaps looking online and merging this with tried-and-tested methods could be valuable.

Either way, Google has just launched google.com/elections, an election hub from which people can study, watch, discuss, learn about, participate in and perhaps even make an impact on the digital campaign trail as it blazes forward to Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

Vikki Chowney

Published 3 January, 2012 by Vikki Chowney

Vikki is head of community at TMW. You can follow her on Twitter or Google+

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