Why Couldn’t Social Media Predict The 2012 Election Results?

In an article posted to Mashable on November 7, 2012 called, “So Did Social Media ‘Predict’ the Election?” author Alex Fitzpatrick addresses this titular question. The short answer – not really. Through an analysis of data that Twitter collected from users who lived in swing states who were tweeting their political opinions, it is shown that trending was occurring in President Obama’s favor just prior to the election. However, when you look at the actual breakdown of supporters from each of the swing states it seemed that Romney was going to have quite a bit more support and wouldn’t have lost as many states as he did to President Obama.

I am surprised that social media was as successful as it was in determining anything about the 2012 presidential election results. While not necessarily accurate state to state, it did predict that President Obama would come out victorious. Personally, I often get stuck in my own bubble and find it difficult to imagine a world vastly different from my own where the internet access is more limited, people don’t necessarily have the same opportunities, world views/opinions are so different, etc. Just because the people in ‘my world’ are active on the internet and are social media savvy, I tend to assume all people are, at least in America. Frankly, I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks this way.

According to another article called, “Youth Vote 2012 Turnout: Exit Polls Show Greater Share of Electorate Than In 2008,” I found posted to The Huffington Post, by Tyler Kingkade, that based on exit polls done in New York City, there was an increase in young voters coming out to vote in this election compared to the 2008 election. Even still, that doesn’t change the fact that there were significant numbers of young Americans who didn’t even bother registering to vote, as stated in a post titled, “Young Voters: Fewer Are Registered, Most Are Not Following The Election, Pew Research Center Finds”, also written by Kingkade. Given this information, and knowing a large portion of young people make up the bulk of the users on social media networks, how can we feel that the active users on these sites represent the bulk of the voting public? We know that out of all potential young voters (18-29) only 72% even registered to vote, which is the lowest registration rate in the past five elections. We also know that 92% of people in this age group are on social networking sites. People posting about the election don’t even need to have the intention to vote for their data to be considered in Twitter data analysis. Furthermore, even if adults are on social networking sites, they’re not digital natives like the young voters, necessarily, and don’t necessarily use these sites the same ways.

Basically, I don’t see how anyone could have expected that social media networking would be able to predict this election. I see how, down the line, as internet technologies become more intwined with our daily lives, the generations that grew up with Internet become adults, and future generations grow up with this technology, how it could be used as a predictive tool. Right now though, I think that not enough of the voting public takes advantage of the affordances of social media networking for it to be an effective source of information about election results. While someday this will change, I’m sure, right now it’s not much of a surprise that the social media could not really be used to predict the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

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