Tea Party pushes GOP past Dems in social net use

HeadCount.org says Republican candidates now have far more Facebook, Twitter friends than their Democratic rivals

Social networking transformed the 2008 presidential election and that burst of online campaigning has spread significantly in this year's mid-term elections.

Social networks, which have become part of our day-to-day lives over the past few years, are fast becoming a critical part of political life as well. In fact, three out of five people who describe themselves as "somewhat politically active" use a social network, according to a recent study by the E-Voter Institute, a non-partisan association focused on politics and the Internet.

And of those politically minded social networkers, 70% say they expect to vote in Tuesday's mid-term elections. The E-Voter study was based on a June survey of 1,581 people.

"Social networking makes a lot of sense in this political environment," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "Parties and groups of supporters are social networks. Politics is a group process. You don't just watch the news, send your contribution, and vote. You participate -- together with other people."

Before and during the 2008 election, Democrats in general and then-candidate Barack Obama in particular showed a lot of online savvy by connecting with younger voters on social networks like Facebook. The Republican party has more than caught up to the Democrats this year, according to HeadCount.org, a non-partisan group focused on registering getting people to vote.

As of late September, Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate had more than 1.43 million fans on Facebook, compared to just under 300,000 for Democrats, noted HeadCount.org. And on Twitter, Republican Senatorial candidates collectively counted 520,000 followers, far more than the 90,000 followers of Democratic candidates.

"Candidates associated with the Tea Party are clearly responsible for much of the social media activity, most notably South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint," reported HeadCount.org. "Hailed as one of the most new media savvy elected officials, he has more Twitter Followers than any incumbent and more Facebook fans than any incumbent other than [Sen. John] McCain."

HeadCount.org also found that candidates in California and Florida had the strongest social media following.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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