Who has been using Twitter better in the past few months: Mitt Romney or Barack Obama?
In the movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance” (2000), the main character is competing in a golf tournament against two very different rivals. One is a polished, controlled, consistent player with flawless technique. The other is a brash, messy, undisciplined player who knows that no matter how he plays, he only needs one brilliant shot to win. At the end of the tournament (spoiler alert) these two disparate players end up with the exact same score.
Both Romney and Obama are on Twitter. Both are consistently using it to push their political messages. But Team Obama is clearly using Twitter like a seasoned pro, while Team Romney…well, let’s just say he’s there. Team Romney isn’t necessarily doing a bad job, but compared to Obama, he looks like a Twitter amateur.
Obama is using Twitter in the way social media was meant to be used. He’s not just tweeting a lot more than Romney—445 tweets in the past month alone compared to the 117 tweets Romney has posted in the past THREE months—but he’s also getting more personable with them. Forty-three of Obama’s tweets have been retweets of followers, fans and his other campaign handles (a retweet is like a virtual fist-bump in Twitter world). Romney has retweeted only once since March 1. And Obama’s tweets are written in a much more personal tone, like a real person actually wrote them (example: tweet from May 5: “It’s rally day. Fired up. –bo”). Romney’s tweets lack that “behind the scenes” quality that most tweeters crave from the public figures they follow.
By all accounts, Team Obama has beaten Team Romney by a landslide of birds and giant whales. But I’m not calling it yet, because sometimes in order to win, all that is needed is one brilliant shot.
One reason why Twitter has managed to stay relevant long past its “trendy new thing” expiration date is in its ability to spread news quickly, get people talking, escalate conversations, and turn the unnoticed into the legendary beyond the ability of even the largest news networks. It’s a “veritable particle accelerator for news cycles and political battles,” per Adweek. And that’s where Team Romney pulled out its wild card, dealt to them by Hilary Rosen.
We know that on CNN at 8:43 p.m. Rosen said that Ann Romney “has never worked a day in her life.” Ann Romney is mother of five, a cancer survivor and lives with multiple sclerosis. Oops. Twitter exploded, and it took Team Romney only 84 minutes to mount an offensive that turned Ann Romney, and her husband by proxy, into a hero, and forced Team Obama to respond to a mistake they had nothing to do with. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina tweeted at 10:42 that evening that he “could not disagree with Rosen any more strongly.” David Axelrod tweeted that Rosen’s comments: “were inappropriate and offensive.” Michelle Obama tweeted the following afternoon that “every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected.” Then on an Iowa TV affiliate that evening, President Obama praised mothers by saying there is “no tougher job than being a mom.”
The gaffe happened on TV. The controversy was fueled by and accelerated on Twitter. And the social groundswell pushed it back onto TV as a major issue demanding to be addressed.
How much of a difference did this relatively minor event make? In April, Obama led Romney by four points in votes cast among married women. Now, Romney leads Obama in votes cast among married women 55 percent to 38 percent, which translates into a seven-point jump for Romney among women overall.
I’m not suggesting that this Twitter rally takes all the credit. Cooling discussions on government roles in health care contraception along with the increasing likability of Ann Romney in general has likely contributed. But even though Team Obama uses Twitter like a pro, a polished, controlled, consistent player with flawless technique, Team Romney managed to make a brilliant shot when it counted. And in a tight race like this one (as the most recent Rasmussen poll suggests), capitalizing on a stroke of unexpected luck could make all the difference.
Twitter Winner: Tie.
This is the first of a four-part series examining the two presidential candidates’ use of social media.
Brian Havig is a copywriter at gyro New York.
Follow him @brhavig