Online popularity didn’t equal automatic votes for Arizona candidates

Nov 7, 2014, 8:43 PM | Updated: 8:45 pm

WASHINGTON — If Facebook friends were votes, Fred DuVal would be the next governor of Arizona.

But DuVal, a Democrat with 30,425 fans of his social media site on Election Day, was defeated easily Tuesday by Republican Doug Ducey and his comparatively small 18,866 Facebook fans on that day.

While it’s nice to be liked as a politician, it’s better to be elected. And the results of this week’s balloting in Arizona challenge conventional wisdom and recent studies that suggest candidates with a more engaging social media presence are more likely to win elections.

“I think we need a lot more research to be conducted that’s really systematic,” said Diana Owen, an associate professor of political science in Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture, and Technology graduate program.

Social media had a big impact on President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, Owen said, but studies trying to pin down any ongoing correlation between a political campaign’s social media and its election results are “sketchy at best.”

That was borne out in Arizona’s statewide and congressional races: About half of those candidates with better social media numbers ended up winning, about half ended up losing. Counting tweets, it turns out, isn’t the same as counting votes.

Facebook uses 14 different metrics to measure engagement on a candidate’s fan page, including people who like the page, comments on a post and sharing the page’s post to their own network. It converts those into a number that lets users know how many “people are talking about” a Facebook page at any given time.

Political communications firm MacWilliams Sanders Erikson looked at Facebook’s impact on the 2012 elections, analyzing candidates’ Facebook engagement over three months.

It found that candidates with more engaged Facebook pages won eight of nine Senate races and 20 of 33 House races it looked at that year, concluding that campaigns that engage online fans “will be rewarded with a meaningful voting bump on Election Day.”

But the study did have one anomaly: Arizona.

The state’s U.S. Senate race that year was the only one where Facebook engagement did not correlate with election results in the firm’s study. It looks like the same thing happened in Arizona’s 2014 midterm elections.

Facebook’s metrics said DuVal had 8,000 people “talking about” him on Facebook on Election Day, compared to 1,200 for Ducey. But Ducey ended the day with 685,200 votes to DuVal’s 531,849, according to the latest unofficial returns from the Arizona Secretary of State’s office Friday.

Races for state school superintendent, secretary of state and attorney general followed suit. Attorney General-elect Mark Brnovich didn’t even have a Facebook fan page for his campaign, but bested Felecia Rotellini who had almost 4,000 people talking about her on Election Day.

The state’s congressional races were a little more likely to align social-media success with ballot-box success, but it wasn’t perfect.

Owen said that while social media isn’t the best source for election predictions, she does believe it has some effect on voter turnout.

“It might encourage people to turn out,” she said. People who follow candidates on social media are signing up for constant updates, which can turn in to reminders to get to the polls as Election Day gets close.

A study done by the University of California, San Diego, appears to agree with her. Professors there looked at social media networks that put out Election Day messages encouraging users to vote, and found that such messages resulted in 340,000 additional votes nationwide.

But Owen said it would be risky to assume anything more than that.

“I don’t hold much faith in the ‘number of tweets equals the winner’ theory,” she said.

Lifetime Windows & Doors

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Facebook Photo/Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport)...
Griselda Zetino

New air traffic control tower is big part of Mesa Gateway Airport’s future growth plan

The new air traffic control tower at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport has been operating for more than a month now, replacing one that dated back more than half a century.
8 hours ago
(Flickr Photo/Arizona Department of Transportation)...

Wrong-way driver dies in crash on Loop 101 in West Valley

One person was killed and two others injured in a wrong-way crash on a West Valley freeway late Tuesday, authorities said.
8 hours ago
(Arizona Department of Transportation Photo)...

Arizonans encouraged to submit ideas to ADOT’s name-a-snowplow contest

Arizonans have until Oct. 13 to submit entries for ADOT's name-a-snowplow contest. ADOT will choose 10-15 finalists for the public to vote on.
8 hours ago
(Facebook Photo/City of Tempe)...

Tempe ranks No. 2 on Money’s list of 50 best places to live in US

A winning combination that included diversity, affordability and job opportunities landed Tempe in the No. 2 spot for best places to live in the country.
8 hours ago
(City of Goodyear Photo)...

Goodyear announces plans to create downtown area called GSQ

The city of Goodyear and Globe Corporation announced plans last week to develop a mixed-used, walkable downtown area called GSQ.
8 hours ago
(Pexels Photo)...
Alex Weiner

Arizona Department of Education allocates $1M for classroom resources

The Arizona Department of Education will allocate $1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for classroom resources.
8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Online popularity didn’t equal automatic votes for Arizona candidates