February 28 will see the Arizona and Michigan primary elections, with frontrunners Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney vying for a foothold in both states. Various national polls reveal a widening Romney lead in Arizona, despite Santorum gaining support recently—up to half the voters have already cast ballots early, before Santorum had a chance to rev things up in the Southwest again. Michigan, on the other hand, seems to still be anyone’s state, despite it being Romney’s birthplace.
Social media reflects Santorum’s recent boost in popularity, recording daily growth in Facebook Fans through OhMyGov analytics. For the most part, both candidates have mirrored growth patterns, with Santorum edging out Romney consistently in volume.
Nationwide public sentiment about the candidates on social media doesn’t appear favorable for either Romney or Santorum, with each candidate earning more negative commentary about them than positive.
In Michigan however, social media confirms that the state could still go to either candidate. Early analytics from OhMyGov reveals large neutral positions for both Romney and Santorum, with deal breaker issues clearly coming to the surface in the form of negative public comments.
So what does all this mean? Potentially that both candidates have a public image problem, with Romney's slighly less problematic in Michigan, and that the mudslinging between the GOP candidates is hurting both of them. It's also a potential indication of their vulnerability, both in the primaries and the general election against the President.
On the other hand, it is possible that the sample is skewed towards those more likely to lodge complaints than praise publicly on forums like Twitter. However, when used consistently across platforms to identify and categorize important issues troubling voters, social media can be highly useful as real-time survey research results.
The charts below reveal the four categories of issues that Michigan residents raised concerns over in Michigan for both Romney and Santorum within negative social media post made about them in the past week. Both Romney and Santorum are facing unique challenges in the Midwest state.
Romney’s biggest problem for winning Michigan may still haunt him from 2008, when he opposed the government’s GM bailout. This stance is clearly remembered by Detroit voters, home to the company’s headquarters, with 36% of comments from Michigan citing this position against Romney. This stance appears especially unfavorable as it was released in mid-February that GM’s net income for 2011 was the highest it’s ever been.
“The GM comeback is an amazing accomplishment. Romney should be disqualified for opposing that bold measure which saved thousands of jobs!” read one Tweet from a Michigan resident.
Romney also earned flack for his infamous flip-flopping and consistent uncertainty about his position on issues, at about 35% of all comments. Also going against him were comments about his wealth and “buying votes” with heavy negative campaigning in Michigan. The “other” category encompasses all comments that expressed negativity towards Romney without citing a reason.
Santorum’s issues varied greatly from Romney, with his “religious convictions” earning him 29% of the negative commentary coming out of Michigan. Voters regularly made negative comments regarding Santorum’s staunch Catholicism and occasionally accused him of attempting to build a “theocracy.”
Santorum’s views on reproductive health issues including birth control, abortion, and prenatal testing contributed only 11% of the total conversation, with more attention going to recent “trouble” comments made by the former Pennsylvania senator. Twitter users attacked his comments of Obama’s “phony religion” and his reference to “anti-science” environmentalists. Overall, Santorum was earning a full 25% of comments that were negative in nature without citing any claim at all.
As the Michigan primary draws closer, the candidates will continue fighting for a position in the lead. Both Romney and Santorum will have to battle hard to change the negative opinions of voters on these tough issues. But that will be difficulty is they continue their aggressive attacks on one another in the media and debates.