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It's an election year in the United States and by all accounts, it will be an interesting one.

President Barack Obama, doesn't yet know who his opponent will be, but when it came to website traffic in January, the Democratic incumbent handily beat all of the Republican contenders.

According to Nielsen, BarackObama.com pulled in 4.2m unique visitors. The traffic leader amongst Republican candidates was Ron Paul, who, with his strong online following, attracted 830,000 unique visitors to his website. He was followed by Mitt Romney, who saw 773,000 unique visitors stop by MittRomney.com. The websites of Rick Santorum (who interestingly has for years battled a big Google problem) and Newt Gingrich each drew in 696,000 and 609,000 unique visitors, respectively.

All told, BarackObama.com pulled in nearly 1.3m more visitors than RonPaul.com, MittRomney.com, Newt.org and RickSantorum.com combined. The disparity between the popularity of BarackObama.com and the websites of those who hope to take his job raises the question: does web traffic point to an Obama victory in 2012?

Data from online activity is increasingly mined to make eerily accurate predictions, but it's probably a bit early to call the 2012 election based on Nielsen's January data. While the ongoing GOP primary may be top of mind for political junkies, the real action won't begin until later this year, when the GOP has decided on its candidate and the 'real' election begins for Most Americans. A whole host of factors, from the unemployment rate to the price of gas, could influence voters, particularly as election day nears.

But that doesn't mean that the Republican candidates should ignore search traffic figures. In 2008, Barack Obama was the social media candidate and there's no doubt that his ability to create grassroots excitement online was a huge boon to his campaign. Few would suggest that using the internet effectively isn't a crucial part of running a successful political campaign today, and while taking advantage of social outlets like Facebook and Twitter is important, come October and November, an inability to drive voters to an owned website could become a liability for either candidate.

Patricio Robles

Published 22 March, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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