Popularity Contest: Can Facebook and Twitter Predict Election Results?

VIDEO: 29 million voters who backed President Obama in 2008 did not show up in 2010.
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Popularity helps in politics, especially having "friends," "followers" and people who "like" you.

In November's elections, the candidate who more people "liked" on Facebook won in 71 percent of Senate elections. Twitter was even more accurate, with the candidates with more followers winning in 74 percent of elections.

Facebook says it watched 118 races in the Senate and the House, and found 77 winners had more "likes" than their opponents did. Furthermore, candidates with twice as many fans as their opponent won by at least 3.9 percent.

Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, were often better predictors of election results than how much money a candidate raised and spent, according to Facebook. In 42 of the races Facebook analyzed, the winner had more "likes" but less money.

The two Senate candidates who spent the most of their own money, Republican Linda McMahon of Connecticut and Democrat Jeff Greene of Florida, did not win. Greene did not win the Democratic primary. McMahon spent almost $42 million and Green spent close to $24 million on the primary, according to the FEC.

But as of November 1, McMahon had only 15 more "likes" on Facebook than the winner, Richard Blumenthal, even though she spent more than seven times as much.

In Florida, Jeff Greene had only 644 "likes" on Facebook compared to the Democratic primary winner, Kendrick Meek, with 24,135 "likes." (Meek lost the general election to Republican Marco Rubio.)

Furthermore, according to the FEC, six out of the ten top-spending Senate candidates did not win election.

"The consensus is that money makes a difference but it's hard to quantify," said Andrew Gellman, a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University. "[Campaign finances] are important, but non-linear. The extra $10 million does not help as much as the first million."

Facebook Election Predictions Have Limitations

Just as money can't buy an election, social media, like Facebook and Twitter, have their limitations as signs of success in a campaign. Facebook failed to predict some high-profile elections.

For example, Delaware's Christine O'Donnell, a tea party Republican running for Senate, had more Facebook and Twitter fans than Democrat Chris Coons did. But all the Facebook friends in the world couldn't help the star of the "I am not a witch" ad win. She lost resoundingly, by nearly 17 percent.

For some candidates neither money nor friends help. In the California Governor Race, Meg Whitman had more Facebook followers, but still lost the race. Whitman had the third largest number of Facebook followers out of all candidates in 2010. The billionaire former eBay CEO also spent more money on her race than any other candidate in 2010.

Republican Sharron Angle of Nevada, who raised more money from donors than any other Senate candidate, also was not elected. Angle also had more Facebook "likes" than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but still could not win the election.

"[Social media] provides information about comparisons…trends and changes could be informative on the subset of people on it," said Gellman. However, he cautioned, "You get more information out of it if you respect limitations. If you try to get too much, you get nothing."

An incumbent, for instance, is more likely to win an election, even if they have a smaller online following than their opponent.

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