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Watching Republican Candidates' 'Boomlets' Through Twitter

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, November 29 2011

Turns out the horse race of Republican presidential politics — who's up, who's down, who's having their "boomlet" or whatever Politico's calling it these days — tracks pretty close to a Twitter statistic.

On Monday I noted that the number of people talking about Newt Gingrich on Twitter was rising in tandem with his rise in the mainstream media — that is, between the end of September and last week, he had accrued attention from a significant number of people who had not mentioned him until then. This could be explained by a strong performance in a debate last week, preceded by a seemingly by-fiat decision on the part of several news outlets to treat him as the next front-runner — with the self-conscious expectation that he likely won't remain in front — and succeeded by the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union-Leader.

All of these are just facts, fluttering loosely in the wind, like Herman Cain's presidential campaign. But wait! A chart, compiled from data provided to us by the Twitter developers and data miners at 140elect.com:

New mentioners of Republican presidential candidates between September and November. Source: 140elect.com / techPresident analysis

These numbers represent new mentioners for each candidate. They are counts of the number of people invoking the candidate's Twitter handle for the first time, at least since March 1, 2011, in the last full weeks of September, October, and November. It's a little convoluted, but the point is to get a sense of how many people find themselves newly interested by each candidate at any point in time. So what you're seeing here is the growth of each candidate's footprint across Twitter's user base — I think. It could also be useless. We're talking, after all, about a social media service whose mascot is a bird and that shows you a sad whale when it crashes, which is often. But squint at that and tilt your head and you can see the tail end of Herman Cain's reign as media darling, the baseline hum of Mitt Romney's campaign machine, cogs a-turning, and some upward movement the number of people newly paying attention to Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.

Is this at all predictive? Dunno. But it looks interesting, doesn't it?