The clear winner of last night's Republican debate in Arizona was not the new front-runner Rick Santorum; it was President Obama, at least according to social media.
While the GOP candidates all got a boost in public support for their media machines, far more supporters lined up during and after the debates to join the Obama camp.
On Twitter, where the President's daily new followers had been dwindling days before, the GOP debates seem to incite people to sign up for Obama tweets in droves of thousands. Close to 19,000 people became followers of Obama's Twitter account following the GOP debates, a near 400 percent increase in support from the previous day, according to OhMyGov's media analytics.
The jump in social media followers trumped that of the biggest gainers in support among the GOP, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, by a factor of nearly 10.
On Facebook, the story was similar, with Obama adding close to 17,000 new fans (or likes)--about a thousand more than he added the previous day. The growth on Facebook signals a continued upward trend in support for Obama, who added 110,000 new Facebook fans this past week.
Among the GOP, public support on Facebook was greatest for the debate performances of Paul and Santorum, both of whom gained more social media fans on Facebook and Twitter than Romney. Gingrich's fan growth appeared stagnant following the debates, despite what many commentators claimed was a strong showing for him.
The numbers indicate what many political advisers have been saying all along; no one in the Republican party is truly energizing the voters. Even Santorum, whose meteoric rise in the polls as head of the pack over the past week garnered considerably media attention, seems unable to stir the social conscious of the American voter enough to show their support for him online in any substantial way.
Though social media isn't always the best litmus test for public sentiment, it has been proven time and time again to have major predictive capabilities. In 2010, scientists were even able to use Twitter to predict how much money movies would take in at the box office with pinpoint accuracy. More recently, OhMyGov showed a significant correlation between growth on Facebook and polling numbers, signifying that social media could be used as a type of real-time polling.
Headed into Super Tuesday, public perception of the GOP candidates is critical, and much of that perception stems from online conversations and media coverage. But if the republicans can't energize interest in themselves on social media, they're unlikely to be able to sustain the onslaught of Obama's social media arsenal in the general election.