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Facebook predicts election results? We're not so sure

November 3, 2010 |  3:37 pm

Facebook-us-politics

Facebook’s U.S. Politics page released a postelection study Wednesday that indicated three-quarters of the politicians with the most Facebook fans won their respective races for House, Senate and governorships. 

That’s perhaps unsurprising, but leaves much open to question. Especially any claim that behavior in online forums in any way can be be used to predict real-world voting habits. 

Out of 98 races tracked, some 69 candidates with the most Facebook fans won, while 24 candidates with the most Facebook fans lost. About five races are too close to call. 

Some 28 out of the 34 Senate races where results have been finalized -- or 82% --  were won by the candidate with more Facebook fans, with three races still to call.  

But three of the night’s most high-profile losers, California’s Meg Whitman,  Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell and Texas’ Bill White, each had Facebook fan totals that surpassed their opponents by a factor of three. It’s also hardly a triumphant night for President Obama, who has the most ...

... Facebook fans of any politician at more than 15 million. Fortunately for him, the president wasn’t running for anything this year, except perhaps cover.

Whitman, White and O’Donnell also had shown significant gains in fan totals in the weeks leading up to the election while losing momentum in the polls, suggesting that taken on face value, fan totals do not entirely correlate with popularity at the polls. 

Facebook’s online voting widget registered more than 10 million clicks Tuesday into Wednesday and awarded an “I voted” badge for users to post as their profile pic, as part of its own campaign to popularize democratic participation.

The site has more than 500 million users worldwide, and more than 200 million in the U.S. predominantly aged between 18 and 34. Voters 45 and older dominated this midterm election, casting 67% of the vote, compared with 53% just two years ago.

Social media firm Alterian also said Wednesday that its methods of harvesting and analyzing positive and negative user comments on politicians’ Facebook pages also helped them predict seven of the eight midterm races analyzed, including Rand Paul’s win in Kentucky, Chris Coons’ win in Delaware and Barbara Boxer’s in California. Only White’s failure to beat Rick Perry in Texas tripped up their findings. 

So there’s no shortage of online analysis groups that see social-media predictions of races as the future in political forecasting. But while virtual voting is still a step away, right now it’s the votes on the ground that matter most. 

-- Craig Howie

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