How the U.S. Election Looks on the Internet

A ballot for the 2012 U.S. presidential election in a Los Angeles voting booth. Some states ban photography in polling places Photograph by Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Social media have arguably played an outsized role in shaping the course of the 2012 election cycle, from serving as a metric for the reach of a campaign’s message to transforming debate gaffes into full-blown memes. In terms of sheer participation, each political moment trumps the last online: With 10.3 million tweets, the Denver presidential debate was the most discussed event in American political history on Twitter, beating both the Democratic National Convention (9.5 million tweets over the week) and the Republican National Convention (4 million tweets over the week), according to Twitter.

Number of tweets sent during the presidential debate in Denver on Oct. 4 (click to enlarge)

Election Day is here and the social Web is thriving with activity. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project report on Social Media and Voting, 30 percent of registered voters have been encouraged to vote for President Obama or Mitt Romney by their friends and family on social networks, while 20 percent of registered voters have encouraged others to vote by posting on a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter.

Percentage of registered voters in different age groups using social media to send voting messages (click to enlarge)
Pew Research Center

According to analytics service Topsy, Twitter users are sending nearly 30,000 messages per hour with the hashtag, #election2012. To encourage their friends to vote, many are taking to Instagram to photograph their ballots. The Facebook-owned photo-sharing service had a banner week ahead of Election Day during Hurricane Sandy, when more than 800,000 photos tagged with #sandy were uploaded during the course of the storm at a rate of nearly 10 photos per second. So far, more than 515,000 photos tagged #vote have been uploaded, but voters should tread carefully: According to the Citizen Media Law Project, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, and Texas are among the states with laws banning photography in polling places.

CNN and Facebook teamed up during the 2012 campaign season to track voter sentiment across the social network. Since the polls opened, mentions of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan jumped from their early November average of around 100,000 an hour to nearly 400,000 mentions per average hour as the polls opened on the East Coast. Daily average mentions for President Obama are up 125 percent since Monday and mentions for Mitt Romney are up 72 percent. Paul Ryan trumps both: up 289 percent today.

Mentions on Facebook for Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, and Paul Ryan (click to enlarge)

Searches for presidential candidates are also up as voters gather last-minute information before heading to the polls. According to Google Insights, Barack Obama searches currently outnumber those for Mitt Romney.

Number of searches for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (click to enlarge)
Google Insights

Does all this online activity have any impact on the body politic? A September paper from Pew Research Center,  “Politics on Social Networking Sites,” found that 25 percent of social media participants who read about political issues online become more active, and 16 percent change their views after reading about issues online.

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