Election Wrap: Head-to-Head Comparisons Across Media

November 6, 2012

Election day is here, and it brings with it an onslaught of studies pitting the candidates head-to-head across a variety of media and metrics, as well as a few looks at voter behavior in the lead-up to today’s vote. (Stay tuned for the inevitable post-election study explaining how Twitter predicted the winner.) To begin, a look at some figures on internet presence, put together by WordStream, which give President Obama the lead over Governor Romney by a significant margin.

Indeed, according to WordStream’s estimates, President Obama had more than 3 times as many estimated website viewers in October than Governor Romney (8.6 million vs. 2.6 million), resulting in far greater reach among internet users (0.1124% vs. 0.048%). Across social media, the gap was even wider: President Obama boasted more Facebook fans (31 million vs. 11 million); Twitter followers (21.7 million vs. 1.6 million); YouTube subscribers (257,471 vs. 28,579), and YouTube video views (262.3 million vs. 29.3 million).

Of course, the only head-to-head matchup that counts happens at the polls, not online, so this information has to be treated for what it is: a simple comparison of numbers.

Twitter Gives The Edge to Obama; Pinterest Users Back Romney

A real-time Twitter mention counter shows that, as of time of writing, President Obama is garnering 58% of tweets about the candidates, compared to 42% for Governor Romney. An analysis of social conversations since October first, by Sysomos, finds that among Twitter mentions, President Obama has slightly more positive or neutral sentiment than Governor Romney (89% vs. 88%), although that gap is very narrow. A separate analysis from Bing gives President Obama a bigger lead, with 73% positive (62%) or neutral (11%) sentiment on Twitter, compared to 64% for Governor Romney. Similarly, a Pew Research Center report finds that 58% of mentions about Governor Romney on Twitter have been negative, compared to 45% for President Obama.

But whereas President Obama might have more Twitter followers and positive mentions, it appears that Pinterest users come from states strongly supportive of Governor Romney. A Monetate analysis that combines state-by-state forecasts from the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog with Monetate’s data on e-commerce shopping sessions finds a high degree of correlation between Pinterest shoppers and red states. That is, per Monetate, “states that have more people following links from Pinterest to online retailers are more likely to vote for Mitt Romney.”

Who Won the Online Ad Spending Arms Race?

So how much are the candidates spending to reach these online users? An infographic from ReTargeter that uses data provided by the Federal Election Commission (as of October 16) finds that the Obama campaign had spent $52 million on online ads during the election season, about double the Romney Campaign’s $26.3 million. The combined $78 million spent on online ads by that point was a dramatic jump from 2008’s total of $22.2 million, although not quite at the level of at least one prior forecast. Still, a study from Resonate (reported by Adweek) finds that total political online ad spending topped $300 million during 2012.

Earlier data from Moat, reported by Adweek, found that during the month of September, the Obama campaign took 93.3% share of display-impression volume across the top 200,000 publishers. And between September 1 and October 14, the Obama campaign had deployed 497 creatives, compared to 90 for the Romney campaign.

Aside from display ads, the Obama campaign also appears to have spent more on search engine marketing. The WordStream estimates, for example, put Obama campaign spending at about $6,000/day on the Google Display Network, compared to $2,300/day for the Romney campaign. On Google Search, the Obama camp seems to be spending $4.4-$13.1k/day comapred to $3.4-$6.3k/day for Romney. An analysis from AdGooroo similarly finds that President Obama has consistently spent more on PPC ads than Governor Romney, going back at least a year.

All told then, the Obama campaign appears to have soundly outspent the Romney campaign on digital ads.

Obama Also Takes the TV Ad Spend Upper Hand

The Obama campaign has also poured funds into TV ads, finds an analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data by the Wesleyan Media Project. As of October 29, the 2 candidates, their party committees, and supporting interest groups had underwritten more than 1 million ads since June 1, which represents a 39.1% bump over 2008, and a 41% increase from 2004 (during the same period).

Overall, the report finds that during the general election period, the Obama campaign has spent $2.60 for every $1 spent by the Romney campaign on TV advertising. Of note, interest groups supporting Governor Romney actually ran more TV ads than the Romney campaign itself – and, per an Ace Metrix report, those 3rd party advertisers in fact ran more effective ads than the candidates themselves.

The emphasis on TV advertising is unsurprising, given that voters seem to give TV the greatest sway over their decisions and it is the medium with the widest reach among likely voters.

Still, those ads have been largely negative in tone. Between June 1 and September 30, just 14% of ads were positive, compared to 62% that were pure attacks, according to separate analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project. In 2008, “only” 40% were negative during that same time frame.

Other Election-Related Data:

  • As of late September, 27% of registered voters who owned a mobile phone had used it to keep up with news related to the election, per survey results from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
  • According to more recent data from Pew, 10% of adults who had donated to one of the presidential candidates did so via their mobile phone.
  • Online videos were a popular way to keep up with the election: Pew also reports that 55% of registered voters have watched online political videos this election season, and that 52% of survey respondents reported having videos recommended to them.
  • 64% of “persuadable voters” (who had not yet made up their mind by October 7) have used the internet to check claims made by a candidate, per results from a Global Strategy Group and Public Opinion Strategies survey.
  • Despite the popularity of digital devices, TV was the dominant way of following the first presidential debate, by 85% of Pew survey respondents. Still 1 in 10 dual-screened, watching on both their TV and computer or mobile.
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