Conventional wisdom holds that voters dislike negative campaigning, but with the amount of mudslinging taking place in the Republican primaries lately, perhaps the candidates didn’t get the message. Or they just discovered that no matter what the voters think they like or don't like, getting conversation flowing about how rotten the other candidate is actually seems to work in their favor.
For frontrunners Gingrich and Romney, the 2012 Republican Race is being framed by several choice buzz words, including “open marriage,” “cayman islands” and “lunar colony,” just to mention a few fan favorites. But is the focus on these hot topics really creating a significant dent in the overall candidate discussion? Could one candidate be winning the PR battle for "least bad publicity" on social media?
A look at data from OhMyGov analytics reveals the top three hot button issues haunting each of the top candidates on social media, respectively. The data shows a compelling story: negative commentary about Gingrich is slightly more prevalent than negative commentary about Romney.
The data was collected during the week of January 23-29 and reflects the issues surrounding the Florida debates and primary aggregated from 25 social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook. The total mentions of the candidates on social media and Twitter respectively are shown below.
In total, Romney was mentioned more often than Gingrich. However, it is important to understand the context in which the candidates were mentioned. When breaking those social media mentions down into individual topics, Gingrich was mentioned more than Romney in hot topic issues, which overwhelmingly carried a negative sentiment. The following chart dissects the media mentions pertaining to the hot topic issues for each candidate.
Even though Romney finally released his tax returns (kind of), the conversation surrounding Romney’s 15 percent tax rate and resistance to follow a familial example of releasing twelve years of tax returns made Romney’s taxes the number one hot topic issue for the former governor. This was followed closely by complaints of Romneycare or various other health care fumbles, as well as a strong complaint from conservatives that he simply is “too moderate” and untrustworthy, given his predilection for flip-flopping on issues.
Still, percentage-wise, Romney seems to be winning (i.e. not losing) the negative publicity battle. Gingrich is bearing the slight majority of the negative feedback circulating on social media between the candidates, with even his number three topic trending more than Romney’s number one thorn in the side: tax returns. Yes it’s true: people seem to care more about Gingrich’s lunar colony than whether or not Romney released his tax returns, at least on social media.
Despite it not hurting his South Carolina showing, the topic of Newt Gingrich’s open marriage suggestion is still thriving on social media, making it the number one complaint of users against the former Speaker of the House. Gingrich’s purported lobbying for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac still whirls on the social media channels, no doubt thanks to Romney consistently pointing it out during debates.
Rounding out the top three hot topics is criticism of Newt’s Lunar Colony. The comments seem to be in line with Ron Paul’s quip at the final Florida debate when he said he’d like to “send some politicians up there,” to which social media has offered up one definitive suggestion: Gingrich himself.
More OhMyGov analytics reveals the sentiment breakdown of social media mentions for both Gingrich and Romney for the past week in between the Florida debate and primary on Twitter alone.
Hot topic mentions, which are the six issues charted above, are denoted in a bright red to show their part in the overall negative conversation. Other negative comments that don't fall in the hot topic categories are denoted in light red.
Both candidates are garnering more negative attention than positive attention across social media platforms; Gingrich is getting more of it at 50 percent, compared to Romney at 42 percent. The hot topics make up 26 percent of Romney's negative feedback and 28 percent of Gingrich's negative feedback.
Romney seems to be winning the publicity battle by garnering more positive attention for himself versus hot topic negative mentions or other negative remarks. His 30 percent of positive feedback outscores Gingrich's positivity feedback by 12 points.
Gingrich must contend with the fact that his 18 percent of positive feedback is lower than the amount of negative feedback or hot topic mentions he is earning.
Despite a late surge in social media activity the day before the primary, the lack of positivity surrounding Gingrich during the week of the Florida debates and primaries seem to have contributed to his ultimate defeat.
Individually, each of the hot topics make up only a tiny fraction of the overall conversation, but when grouped together show a trend in the negative feedback. For the candidates, these specific issues should be more concerning than general negative commentary because they cite a specific problem with the candidate.
The opportunity exists for candidates to be aware of these issues and combat them proactively instead of waiting to respond to negative campaign ads in a debate (which they may or may not remember approving, Romney). In the meantime, it would be refreshing to see a candidate try to win on his own merit rather than simply not losing due to his opponent's alleged shortcomings.