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Facebook's a Cloudy Crystal Ball

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, November 3 2010

So, as the dust settles, a question emerges: how good a predictor of electoral success is a candidate's tally of Facebook admirers? A pretty good one, suggests Facebook's DC-based political operation in a hint at some analysis they're cooking up:

An early sample of some of the hottest House and Senate races bodes well for the world's largest social networking site. The Facebook political team's initial snapshot of 98 House races shows that 74% of candidates with the most Facebook fans won their contests. In the Senate, our initial snapshot of 19 races shows that 81% of candidates with the most Facebook fans won their contests. 

Fair enough, as far as the aggregate numbers go. But dig in a bit, and there's evidence to support the idea that Facebook fan tallies aren't really all that illuminating in particularly close races -- the ones where indicators of support might help make us look smarter as we try to figure out who's going to win what. In Nevada, for example, Senate candidate Sharron Angle trounced Harry Reid when it comes to Facebook. When it came to the voting booth, she lost. Down in Florida, Rep. Alan Grayson was holding a comfortable Facebook lead over Daniel Webster. In the end, he lost. And over in California, gubernatorial aspirant Meg Whitman enjoyed a more than 100,000 person advantage on the Facebook front over Jerry Brown. She, yes, lost.

Facebook's fan tallies are a decent reflection of electoral success in many elections, it turns out. But in the big races where we really truly don't know how the outcomes are going to come out, tracking how a candidate is performing on Facebook doesn't seem to clarify much.