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The internet buzz election — Britney pips Obama? Not quite …

(This post first appeared on my own blog,

Every time you turn the television on these days you get more talking heads crunching numbers about the US Elections – whispering urgently about who is going to win which states and why. I’m feeling a little left out, so I thought I would do my own analysis.

In the internet age buzz is everything. Heroes are made and broken online, and those who breathe the rarefied air at the top of the social media stratosphere are the kingmakers.

So here, then, is a question. If the US were to hold their election tomorrow, who would win? Too broad a question … and one answered already by dozens of polls and surveys by news organisations across the US. So let us narrow it a bit. What if the only voters were those who are active online?

Pew Internet & American Life Project has some interesting data on internet usage. They reckon that 73% of adults in the US use the internet. The most active age range is 18-29, of whom 90% use the internet, closely followed by 30 – 49 (85%) and 50 -64 (70%). Internet usage is highest among the wealthy – 95% of those who earn $75 000 or more go online. So if you’re young, rich and American, it’s hard to imagine you doing anything else other than logging on, writing emails, checking your Facebook status and watching videos on YouTube. No surprises there.

OK so now we have our electorate, how about our candidates? In the internet generation, anything goes. So let’s put the real candidates on the ballot — Barack Obama and John McCain. But we need a control group … someone who is firmly a part of the internet generation and is capable of creating a kind of buzz all of their own. Britney Spears. Perfect.

Now to the voting process. Instead of voting in a polling booth behind a little curtain, let’s hold the election completely online and elect a president based only on the buzz that each candidate creates among the net faithful. Surely there can be no better sign of endorsement than someone giving of their valuable internet time to read about and watch someone? It’s easy to put an “X” next to a name. It’s a truer test of popularity if, in the privacy of your own home and in your own time, you are searching for and consuming information about someone. Because in a voting booth you have limited choice. Online you have access to information and news about millions of people. And so you make choices that, in today’s number crunching world, can lead us to all sorts of confusion.

But before I go any further – a caveat. I did Standard Grade maths at school. I have never studied statistics. Taking what I am about to do seriously would be like going up to a seven-year-old playing “doctor, doctor” and asking them to perform open heart surgery on you. Or asking Richard Catto for a sane opinion. Don’t do it. This is amateur stuff, and I make no apologies for it.

I’ve taken several indicators of online “buzz” – an attempt at trying to see how much noise each of our three candidates is making online. These indicators are: YouTube Channel views, YouTube subscribers, number of YouTube video results, the number of fans each has on Facebook, and the number of members each has in a “negative” group on Facebook. Then I looked at Digg and and measured how much each candidate features there, and wrapped it all up in a simple Google number – the number of pages that emerge as search results for the candidate’s name, and the number of Blog mentions tracked for each candidate by Google.

Here are the results of my number crunching, all neatly arranged in a graph.

(click on the image to see it larger)

The result, I am happy to say, is heartening. Britney Spears will not be the next president of the USA or cyberspace or anything anytime soon (although some would argue that Sarah Palin is not that far off. I’m just saying). Barack Obama leads the way with the lion’s share of the electorate’s attention.

With his youthful message of change it is hardly surprising that Obama commands cyberspace. He announced his running mate by SMS; he has teams of people just focused on the internet buzz he is creating (*waves – hi guys!*) And, let’s face it, watching John McCain try and master the internet is like watching your dad dance at a wedding.

So there’s my poll. I’ve done my bit. Pundits … Go!


  • Tony Lankester

    Tony is a corporate animal but it wasn't always so. He used to work in the media, with a specific interest in technology; travel; music; and getting free stuff. He doesn't consider himself a thought leader, although he does confess to having thoughts. He presents the M&G's weekly podcast.