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How Social Media Accurately Predicted Florida's Special Election for Congress

Why is social media analysis fast becoming a critical piece of campaign intelligence? The answer is simple: The purity of the data.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The hotly contested special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District to fill the seat vacated by the October death of long time GOP Congressman C.W. Bill Young ended with Republican David Jolly, a staff attorney for Young, emerging as the winner against former state Chief Financial Officer and failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.

Barack Obama narrowly won the GOP leaning district in 2012 by 1 percent beating Mitt Romney 50 percent-49 percent, causing the Jolly/Sink race to be considered a toss-up. With nearly 100 percent of precincts reporting, it was Jolly 48.5 percent to Sink 46.7 percent with Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby taking 4.8 perent of the vote.

Democrats were somewhat stunned that a virtual unknown beat a well-known former statewide office holder. Democratic National Committee Chair and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz sent out this slightly bizarre tweet, to which I replied.

Conservative columnist and author Michelle Malkin also had some fun with Mrs. Wasserman Schultz’s Twitter interpretation of the GOP win.

So, what did social media tell us about this race?

PsyID conducted an analysis of roughly 50,000 voters who were representative of the district make-up over the last several months, and our data consistently gave Republican Jolly the edge. Positive sentiment for the GOP candidate came in at 46.2 percent, with the Democrat at 39.25 percent among registered voters in the district. Those voters with other affiliations comprised 14.5 percent of our sample.

However, when those with other affiliations were micro analyzed, they split almost evenly as leaning GOP, Democrat, and other, putting the approximate sentiments for the district at 51 percent GOP, 44 percent Democrat, and 5 percent other, indicating that the race was the GOP’s for the taking, and that social media indicated results within plus/minus 3 percent and within 1 percent with regards to the third party candidate.

Credit: PsyID. Credit: PsyID.

What were the district’s voters talking about on social media?

In short, smaller government and conservative principles. Those self-identified as GOP voters showed an interest in politics, especially the conservative wing of the party, with high favorability towards Mitt Romney, FreedomWorks, and Paul Ryan in their top five positive sentiments. Democrats indicated only one political figure in their top five, Barack Obama.

However, Republicans favored Mitt Romney more than double that of Democrats favoring President Obama, indicating that enthusiasm for Democratic politicians was waning in the district. Republicans also indicated support for conservative media figures, groups, and politicians in 11 of their top 20 social media preferences with Glenn Beck, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and The Tea Party making the cut. Democrats by comparison were politically tepid on social media indicating Barack (number one) and Michelle Obama (number 15) as the only political figures to make their top 20.

Interestingly Publix supermarkets and Walmart were in the top five of both Republican's and Democrat’s, with Publix holding steady at number two among both major party affiliations. Walmart also reached the top five in the "Other" category. While a seemingly irrelevant data point, our analysis leans towards the high positive sentiment for Publix, a regional supermarket chain, as indicative of a strong sense of community. This theory is supported by other high localized positives among all party affiliations, including local TV affiliates and professional sports teams. We feel these sentiments might have played a role in Democrat Sink’s loss as many labeled her a “carpet bagger” for only recently moving into the district to run for the seat.

Credit: PsyID. GOP likes on social media.Credit: PsyID.


Credit: PsyID. Democrat likes on social media. Credit: PsyID.

Age and gender by party was another consideration, as our sample indicated the highest levels of enthusiasm and political activity on social media by both male and female Republicans with Democratic women slightly edging Democratic men.

Credit: PsyID. Credit: PsyID.

Looking at Twitter, an analysis of #Obamacare returned overwhelmingly negative sentiments in the district, as did the Democrats’ support for slashing military budgets and benefits. Congressional District 13 lies just west of the sprawling MacDill Air Force Base and is home to many military families and retirees, as well as large defense contractors like Raytheon and their employees. #Obamacare is particularly important to analyze in relation to seniors being negatively affected. Congressional District 13, as the chart above indicates, realizes a high degree of political enthusiasm on social media from voters over 55 years of age.

I asked Florida State Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami) for his take on Jolly's win and he told me, "I think this election shows that Floridians have woken up to the failed policies of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats."

Why is social media analysis fast becoming a critical piece of campaign intelligence? The answer is simple: The purity of the data.

Analyzing the sentiments of voters on social media requires no questions, no canned surveys, and doesn’t involve respondents giving answers under pressure. It enables us, as Glenn Beck noted in our chat last November, to be a fly on the wall, listening to what people really prefer, and what they really want. Best of all, voters are not bothered with phone calls from pollsters during dinner, and no one is knocking on their door with a clipboard at inopportune times.

Shutterstock Shutterstock 

The intelligence is collected passively, ensuring the integrity as no traditional polling methodology can do. And because the sample is pulled from a sample representative of registered voters, there is no chance that a biased pollster will stack the deck either way. Nor can they script questions to elicit a pre suggested response. We are simply listening and reporting back what folks are saying.

I predict that as social media continues to become more prevalent in our everyday lives as a source of news, pop culture, and current events, the use of social media as a campaign strategy tool will grow and eventually become the norm.

People are talking, and what they are saying is clear. They want smaller less intrusive government, and I feel they will be heard this November. By all indicators, it appears the outcome will be disastrous for incumbent Democrats and statist Republicans facing primary challenges.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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