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Daily Download: Obama Spent 10 Times as Much on Social Media as Romney

November 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ray Suarez talks to Daily Download's Howard Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn about a 10-to-1 spending gap on social media between the Obama and Romney campaigns, as well as the shifting role Facebook and Twitter played in how voters expressed their political leanings in their communities.

JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, Ray Suarez handles our regular look at the campaign as it played out in social media and on the Web.

RAY SUAREZ: For that, we’re joined again by two journalists from the website Daily Download. Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor in chief. Howard Kurtz is Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Well, we have been talking for months about the new ways of doing politics during this election season online.

Lauren, how much did the campaigns end up spending?

LAUREN ASHBURN, A 10-1 ratio.

Take a look at this. The Obama campaign spent $47 million on digital spending. And the Romney campaign spent $4.7 million.

RAY SUAREZ: A 10-1 gap. Do we know what the Obama campaign realized in that kind of spending advantage? Did they get much for their buck?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, he won, didn’t he?


HOWARD KURTZ, “Newsweek”/CNN: That does kind of settle the argument.

The Obama campaign believed from the start that digital was an important new area, and really had an almost an evangelical feeling about signing people up to register to give money through Facebook and Twitter.

The Romney campaign obviously got a later start because he wasn’t the incumbent, but also I think didn’t quite have the fervent belief that this deserved a lot of resources.

RAY SUAREZ: The Romney campaign, however, did have a computer-based modeling system like the Obama campaign. It was called Orca?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Orca, like the whale, and it failed, by all accounts.

It didn’t do what it was supposed to do on Election Day, which was to get — to find out who was voting and who wasn’t, so they could get the supporters out to make sure that those people were voting.

HOWARD KURTZ: And the Romney campaign did put a lot of resources into that system. And, unfortunately for that side, it crashed. And a lot of volunteers went home. They couldn’t get the information about identifying voters.

And this was supposed to be its answer to the vaunted Obama ground game, the president’s team that he had spent a couple years putting in place.

Now, coming back to this question of digital spending, if you go to the next graphic, look at the increase from 2008, when the president, when then candidate Obama spent $16 million, and zooming up to $47 million for 2012.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And 2008 was supposed to be the social media campaign. And look at it now. It’s continuing.

And there are some questions as to whether or not 2016 will be another social media campaign or will we be on to something new?

RAY SUAREZ: Now, here was another example of how the Obamas never stopped running. The campaign never really stopped. They just kept upping the investment in the online world as we proceeded through that first term.

Now let’s talk about interactivity, because that’s part of the gold standard of this, right? You don’t just want cute cat pictures and people playing with their dogs.


RAY SUAREZ: You want people engaged in electoral politics.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And it happened. People weren’t just looking at those cute kitties. They were announcing their votes on social media.

If you look at the amount of Obama supporters, 25 percent of them actually announced who they were voting for. And 20 percent of the Romney supporters did that, almost even. So, the Facebooks, and the Twitters were able — the Twitter was able…

HOWARD KURTZ: Twitterers.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Twitterers were able to get that information out.

And it encouraged their friends and family to, A., vote, or to, B., vote for the candidate that their friend was voting for.

HOWARD KURTZ: And I think that’s the key, Lauren, because we’re all accustomed to getting bombarded by messages from political PACs, as well as the campaigns themselves.

When you see that your friend, that your followers, that your uncle are voting for President Obama, voting for Mitt Romney, that has a subtle form of exertion.

And this same study comes from the Pew Internet group. We found out that a lot of people were lobbied online through social media to support one candidate or the other. And there was an age split there as well.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, when you looked at Facebook, if you have a number of friends and they have various political beliefs, they would attach articles that they had seen, magazine pieces, TV pieces that they had seen that they wanted you to see. So, unlike an ad from nowhere, it was from somebody you actually knew in real life.


And I spoke to a lot of people all across the country who told me that, if they didn’t like what someone was saying on Facebook or Twitter, ding, unfollow, unfriend. And so it wound up that there is this microcosm of people who believe what you believe. So, when those articles are shared, they’re more likely to be read.

HOWARD KURTZ: Well, I hope some of those friendships come back now that the election is behind us.

But you talked about 2016. Already, we are seeing that, if you look at the age breakdown, 45 percent, almost half of those who were in that 18-to-29 age group said they were lobbied online through social media by friends or family to vote for one candidate or the other.

If you were over 65, it’s only 11 percent. But as that population ages, it is going to become second nature for people to engage, lobby, share politics online.

LAUREN ASHBURN: What I found interesting is that people would actually say what they voted for. It used to be there was this cloak of secrecy. No one would really say who they voted for.

HOWARD KURTZ: Privacy of the voting. The curtain is pulled, nobody knows.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, nothing is private on the Internet, as we have said many times.

RAY SUAREZ: It’s interesting that you mention people unfriending over this, because that tends to intensify the fact that the people you talk to in your circle are more and more like you, which is what people who buy eyeballs online really want…


RAY SUAREZ: … the idea that you’re like a lot of other people who are in your group.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Therefore, if you put the ad on one person’s Facebook page, it’s more likely to be shared and shared and shared again and again with the people who are their friends.

RAY SUAREZ: Lauren, Howard, good to see you both.


HOWARD KURTZ: Thanks, Ray.