Aside from the competition for over 470 political offices across the country, there’s another contest underway during the 2012 U.S. general election — the contest for Web users’ eyeballs.
All three are in the top 10 most-frequented websites online, according to third-party tracking firm Alexa, and all three have been publishing election content for months and promoting new U.S. election tools more prominently in recent days.
Here is a roundup of what each of the “big three” are offering to allow users to track, analyse, share their own views and otherwise participate in election 2012:
Google celebrated election day in the U.S. with an election-themed “doodle,” that’s the Google logo, which the search giant frequently alters in commemoration of holidays, famous figures’ birthdays and other notable events:
Clicking on the doodle brings users to Google’s Voter Information tool, which allows users to enter the address where they are registered to vote and see a wealth of local voting information — from polling places to a “ballot summary” showing all of the candidates appearing on the local ballot, to voter ID requirements to contact information for election officials.
But even that just touches the tip of the iceberg when it comes Google’s free online resources for election 2012. The Google Politics & Elections website also includes a continuously updated list of election-related content produced by other sources, from news articles to YouTube videos (such as the popular “BadLipReading” political candidate dubs).
Going deeper, Google’s Politics & Elections website offers the “Campaign Explorer,” an interactive map graphic Google made in collaboration with CNN that displays campaign spending in advertising, fundraising and travel categories on a state-by-state basis.
Further, Google gives users a 2012 Election-specific Google Trends graph and “heat map,” showing relative search popularity for the candidates across the country and on a state-by-state basis.
Photo: Google Trends
And for the the true political junkie, Google has published the results of its consumer surveys of Web users on their reactions to the Presidential debates, including a topical breakdown.
As for why Google is undertaking these efforts, a spokesperson provided TPM the following statement: “As part of our mission to organise the world’s information and making it universally accessible, Google is working with election officials across the country to centralize and give voters easy access to voting information they need online.”
Facebook users looking for their polling station can turn to the website to find out where to vote, too, using a feature called the Facebook Polling Place Locator, which allows users to enter their address and displays the local polling site on a map powered by Microsoft Bing and Nokia’s Navteq data. The app also provides information on Voter ID forms, an FAQ on voting, and election administration contact details.
Facebook’s U.S. Politics Page has been cranking out political content and insights since it was launched in 2009, but lately has gone into overdrive, publishing Facebook wall post updates throughout election day on Facebook’s internal analytics of its users, detailing everything from “the most mentioned words and phrases on Facebook in the United States over the last 24 hours,” to notes from Facebook’s Talk Meter, which gives demographic breakdowns on which categories of Facebook users are posting about which candidates and topics.
Measuring “Election Buzz,” on a scale from 1-to-10, with 10 being the most talked about, Facebook’s Talk Meter published the following first list of results on Tuesday around noon Eastern:
ELECTION: 7.87 · About a half point higher with men. Men are scoring an 8.13 while women are scoring a 7.68 · Highest with older users but all age groups are scoring over a 7.0 · Top group for men: 55-64 with a 8.56 · Top group for women: 65 and up with a 8.09 · Highest buzz geographically: D.C., Virginia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, OhioOBAMA: 6.94
· Higher with men. Men are scoring a 7.28 while women are scoring a 6.69
· Highest with older users but all age groups are scoring over a 6.0.
· Top group for men: 55-64 with a 7.72
· Top group for women: 55 and up with a 6.93
· Highest buzz geographically: D.C., Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, Michigan, Florida
· Higher with men. Men are scoring a 7.18 while women are scoring a 6.51
· Highest with older users but all age groups are scoring over a 6.0.
· Top group for men: 55-64 with a 7.63
· Top group for women: 65 and up with a 6.99
· Highest buzz geographically: New Hampshire, D.C., Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Massachusetts, Utah, Michigan, Florida, Rhode Island
But Facebook’s U.S. Politics page doesn’t just provide numeric and qualitative data: On its Facebook Stories website, the company also published its own live, realtime updating “heat map,” tallying all those Facebook users who shared publicly on the website that they voted in the 2012 election (Facebook notes that it anonymized all user data first.)
The map visually illustrates votes in realtime across the country as blue dots of varying size, with larger “bursts” corresponding to areas where more people were voting:
Facebook additionally kept track of total votes by its U.S. users per hour. Check out the following graph as of 5:22 p.m. Eastern:
As of the time of this article’s publication, upwards of 4.8 million Facebook users said they had voted, with women outnumbering men almost exactly 2-to-1 (1.6 million men Facebook users to 3.2 million women Facebook users).
In the run-up to election day and for it, Facebook also partnered with CNN on two projects: The “I’m Voting” app, which asks users why they headed to the polls, and on the Election Insights tracker, which seeks to keep tabs on just how many Facebook users are talking about each of the major party White House candidates at any given time.
As for why Facebook has taken such an active role in the 2012 election, a Facebook spokesperson told TPM: “Facebook is committed to encouraging people who use our service to participate in the democratic process. As a result, we’re focused on ensuring that those who are eligible to vote know where they can cast their ballots and, if they wish, share the fact that they voted with their friends.”
Political reporters were quick to label the 2012 election the “Twitter Election,” for the outsized role they expected the short-messaging social network to play, and they weren’t disappointed, with campaigns using it to rally supporters and advertise as reporters, political junkies and users of all occupations tweeted their hearts out during the debates.
But Twitter itself sought to offer election features above and beyond the chatter that users were already contributing. In early August, the website launched the Twitter Political Index, or “Twindex,” a collaboration with social analytics firm Topsy designed to measure on day-to-day basis Twitter’s overall “sentiment,” positive or negative, about President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The sentiment is represented as a numeric score that goes up or down day-to-day depending on whether more people tweeted positive or negative comments about either candidate.
In addition, since it was updated in late October, the Twindex has allowed interested users to see a history of the sentiment about the candidates going back to May, and separately, to see total mentions in tweets of particular political topics — energy and the environment, the economy, gay rights, etc — over the past 30 days.
In early November, Twitter launched another tool — the Political Engagement Map, which ranks what Twitter considers to be the most “engaging” tweets from both major party Presidential candidates — that is, the tweets from either candidate account that received the most retweets and favourites.
The Twitter Political Engagement map illustrates the volume of response each of these top tweets received in each of the 50 states. At the bottom of the map, users can also click to see “Noteworthy Reactions,” which measures how each tweet performed relative to a baseline of engagement for all other tweets in general. Users can filter both views by their own keywords, too.
Twitter also invited users to follow its Twitter #Election2012 topic page and Twitter Government account, @Gov, the latter of which it said it use to post frequent updates throughout the day and night.
From midnight Monday through 2 p.m. Eastern Tuesday, election day, Twitter said that it counted 6.4 million tweets about the election and an average of 13,000 tweets per minute about the U.S. election, with 3,000 tweets per minute specifically from users who said they voted.
“Taxes emerged as the top-tweeted issue in most swing states, except for Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, where Foreign Policy was referenced in the majority of issue-related Tweets,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement.
Nationally, the issues of most importance to Twitter users appeared to be as follows: the economy (32%), foreign policy (17%), taxes (14%), energy & the environment (9%), and education (7%).
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