This week Governor Rick Perry suspended his campaign to seek the Republican nomination to be president. As a watcher of the candidate's social media performance, I am not surprised. Especially in these early days, social media buzz about the candidates should be a good predictor of electability. As voters look at their choices, their willingness to engage with them in front of their friends is a good indicator of the candidates' viability. As voters become less willing to engage with candidates, especially if their behavior suggests they are increasingly unwilling, candidates should and will consider dropping out of the race.
Over the past two weeks we have seen some dramatic (and some not so dramatic) changes in the level of Facebook activity (Likes, Comments, Shares and Posts) for several GOP candidates, as reported by USA Today's Facebook Barometer. Looking at the table below, we can see which candidates are moving on this measure.
Five big shifts stand out in the data. On the positive side, Mike Huckabee increased his Facebook activity more than six-fold, largely due to his grandstanding with Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis over her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Similarly, Ted Cruz jumped his activity by about 10% for tagging along with Huck in Kentucky (giving rise to speculation about a Huckabee-Cruz ticket).
On the red side of the leger (see, I used "red" in a different manner than typically used when discussing GOP candidates), Trump, Walker and Christie all saw very large drops in Facebook activity. Trump tallied more than 23 million less engagements than he did last week. But before you get all teary-eyed, note that the 18+ million engagements he did get were still more than five times the number that his closest rivals got (Cruz, Huckabee and Carson). So, in Trump's case, the drop is more a measure of how high he soared last week as opposed to how bad he did this week,
Scott Walker and Chris Christie, on the other hands (do I have that many?), experienced slides this week that are particularly troublesome. Walker's engagement stats dropped by about half, from over a million to just over 500,000. Unlike Trump, who dropped by more than half, Walker simply does not have as much room to give. As we can see on the Total Facebook Activity table below, Walker dropped from fifth place last week to eighth place this week. Christie also had less than half the engagements this week as last week and for his part, he had even fewer engagements to give than Walker. Christie also dropped in total engagements from eighth to tenth. Trump, of course, remained firmly entrenched at the top of the list.
These numbers suggest that Walker and Christie's campaigns are struggling to energize voters. And while their engagement numbers are a bit higher than Rick Perry's, they are not so much higher that their campaigns can easily avoid Perry's fate. At this point, the factor most likely to keep Walker and Christie in the race, if their poor engagement statistics persist, is their hubris. Neither has experienced the humbling that Perry has in his two efforts to win the nomination, and their track records for ego-driven politics are strong.
As for the not-so-dramatic results in Facebook activity, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore and Carly Fiorina saw virtually no change from last week. For Fiorina, she remains in the thick of things with nearly a million engagements each of the past two weeks. But Pataki and Gilmore are going nowhere. And it seems unlikely that their campaigns will last much longer.
The final impact of social media on the elections will not be known for some time, yet. But in the short-run, the case for social media's impact on the sorting out of the large GOP field of candidates keeps getting stronger.