Old habits die hard…even in the Twittersphere.
In an effort to determine if certain tweeting strategies led to an increase of engagement—and ultimately a boost in poll results—for the four 2012 Republican presidential race front-runners, Michelle Forelle and Sarah Sullivan, master’s students within Steinhardt’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, analyzed 1,016 tweets by Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum.
Their findings suggest that the candidates’ social media tactics rarely diverge from the traditional practice of bullhorn advertising and mudslinging on the campaign trail.
According to their data, which are based on public Twitter feed data, the two graduate students found that generating attacks on fellow candidates and the incumbent, spreading news of events, endorsements, or boasting a campaign slogan, composed the bulk of each candidate’s tweets.
Between the January Iowa caucuses and Super Tuesday in March, the team accumulated numerous data from each candidate’s personal Twitter handle that included: the date the tweet was created, the number and contents of hashtags (#s), @-mentions, the URLs included, the number of times the tweet was retweeted, if the tweet was a retweet, who they were interacting with, and the full text of the tweet.
According to Sullivan, this time frame and population sample was just small enough to provide the comprehensive and qualitative results they needed.
“We chose this time frame, while condensed, for a reason,” Sullivan explains. “It’s a key period of time where you would think candidates’ efforts to engage potential voters would peak.”
Professor Liel Leibovitz, the students’ research advisor, believes their research is revealing.
“The 2008 elections really set the tone for the use of social media in the political process,” says Leibovitz. “This is one of the first exhaustive studies I’ve seen that takes a close look at how the candidates are using this emerging digital platform. I think that Michelle and Sarah’s research is significant to understanding the application of new media in political campaigns.”