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The politics of 'like' in WI's recall race

By   /   May 21, 2012  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – If Gov. Scott Walker feels the world is against him, he should take a look at his campaign Facebook page.

There he will find 66,000-plus people who “like” him.

That’s more than twice the likes his recall election challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, is getting on his Facebook page.

Democrats, meanwhile, nearly double Republicans in likes in the party Facebook race.

While it may be ego-boosting, do those likes and fans and followers really mean anything in political campaigns?

The answer is yes, no and it all depends, according to political insiders.

“The proof is going to be in the pudding,” said Maria Cardona, principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm with clients from Fortune 100 companies to nonprofits to political campaigns.

While Wisconsin — and the nation — is about to find out just how meaningful Facebook, Twitterand the like are to political campaigns, Cardona said there is no denying the potential social media offers — and the power of the conversation electronic networking stirs.

“That allows campaigns, if they are able to harness, to leverage that tool to give their constituents messages, the passion, if they will, to mobilize around something,” said Cardona, one of several nationally prominent experts to serve on a panel discussion about social networking and politics.

The raw numbers in Wisconsin are telling to a point:

Walker’s campaign, Friends of Scott Walker, as of Monday evening boasted 66,613 people who liked the campaign’s Facebook, or people who are at least marginally interested or invested in the site.

Tom Barrett’s campaign Facebook account had 27,389 likes.

Walker, too, has a lot more “followers,” people who track his activities and musings on Twitter, than Barrett. The governor’s campaign account, as of Monday, had 17,754 followers compared to the Barrett camp’s 5,575.

Barrett, of course, jumped into the campaign in April and had been on the campaign trail for about a month when he won his parties primary May 8. Walker has been effectively raising money since Democrats launched the recall campaign late last year.

On the party front, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has nearly doubled the Facebook likes of its counterpart, with 31,170 compared to the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s 17,844, as of early Monday evening.

It’s closer in Twitter land, with Democrats reporting 6,575 followers to the Republicans’ 6,127.

The Democratic Party did not return a phone call or an email placed with party officials. But the party brags about its social networking prowess in a DPW’s Strategic Plan to Defeat Scott Walkersent to “interested parties” on May 13.

In it, the Dems claim their:

• YouTube videos have been viewed more than 309,000 times

• Facebook page is the most liked and active site in the country, reaching more than 117,000 people in 20 countries every week.

• Website averages more than double the number of unique visitors than does ScottWalker.org.

Ben Sparks, spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said it doesn’t matter how often parties tweet or how many Facebook likes they collect if they don’t have a strong message.

“Our campaign is superior both in how comprehensive and effective our online message is,” Sparks said. “The Democrats have no unified message. They’ve jumped from one message to the next every week.”

The GOP official said the proof of the Republicans’ social network campaign, and the Walker campaign in particular, was borne out on primary night, when more than 620,000 voters turned out to vote for the governor — nearly matching the four major Democratic gubernatorial candidates combined.

“For the Republican primary, there was not a concentrated get-out-the-vote effort,” Sparks said. “We encouraged people via Facebook and Twitter to vote and encouraged our conservative grassroots throughout the state to encourage people to get out and vote.”

The bottom line for both parties is likes don’t equal votes. Campaign Facebooks are, like anything else, the domain of all comers. A Wisconsin candidate could be liked or followed by a 14-year-old from Oxnard, Calif. That ain’t helping at the polls.

But social networks serve as a catalyst, a call for action from the smallest online communities to national campaigns, Cardona said.

Cardona agreed that message, and issues, ultimately drives voters to the polls. She said Democrats have and will continue to rally around what they see as Walker’s attacks on unions, middle-income earners and families.

Republicans will continue to counter that Scott Walker’s reforms have lessened the burden for middle-income families.

But the messages, political experts said, are being driven, debated and dissected in online platforms like never before.

“All of that is great for democracy,” Cardona said. “It makes it messier, but it makes it interesting, alive, robust and real.

“It’s good for Americans and voters, and it’s good for political campaigns and politicians. They need to understand what they say at every second of every day, they are going to be accountable for their words.”