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Does Facebook Really Matter to Congressional Elections, or Voters?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, November 4 2010

Our friends at Facebook have been getting lots of mileage of their report, noted here yesterday by Nancy, that in 98 House races and and 19 Senate contests, the candidate with the most Facebook "likes" won their race, respectively, 74% and 81% of the time.

Like us, the LATimes blog was skeptical that Facebook numbers truly meant that much, noting how in several high profile races, the candidates with the most fans lost.

But other observers, including Wired's David Kravets ("Analysis: Bigger Twitter, Facebook Flock Boosts Election Odds"); Bloomberg's Brian Womack ("Facebook Users Help Predict Republican Election-Night Victories"); and Venturebeat's Matthew Lyney ("Facebook, Twitter analytics successfully predict 2010 election winners") parroted Facebook's spin.

Now some smart academic observers are turning their attention to the topic, raising deeper questions about whether we should infer anything about Facebook usage by politicians when so few voters bother to "like" most of them. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Christian Vaccari looked at the 112 most competitive races for House seats and found that the median number of fans obtained by a Republican candidate was just 2,156 vs 1,609 for a Democrat. A few high visibility candidates--Michele Bachman and Alan Grayson--got the lion's share of all Facebook interest, as their chart shows, and while Bachman won re-election, Grayson did not. But very few people opted to "like" House candidates in most races, which Nielsen and Vaccari say shows "most Americans do not care very much about electoral politics (and do not care much for most electoral politicians)." Sobering words.