ABC News’ Devin Dwyer (@devindwyer) reports: With the GOP 2012 horserace well underway, here’s a snapshot of what we know about the field based on the candidates' Twitter followings and integration of the social networking tool into their campaigns:
– Newt Gingrich has an audience, the largest of the GOP field at 1.3 million, but it’s growing at an anemic pace — the worst of the field in week-over-week adds. The former House speaker won less than 100 new followers last week, fewer than any other candidate.
– Jon Huntsman is no Twitter star. He’s averaging about a tweet a day, since he activated his account a month ago. And with a following of 6,261, he’s the last in the GOP pack.
– Michele Bachmann's Twitter following of 62,000 puts her ahead of five of her peers, including front-runner Mitt Romney. But her average weekly growth of just 3.7 percent over the past two months may not be enough to keep her in front: Romney has been closing the gap, averaging 4.53 percent weekly growth in the same period to stand at 59,800.
– Herman Cain has been the most active tweeter over the last three months. He's tweeted 1,289 times from the account @TheHermanCain, bested only by Obama and Gingrich, whose accounts have been in the spotlight much longer. Cain's following – 49,000 – puts him smack dab in the middle of Pawlenty and Romney.
– Tim Pawlenty v. Mitt Romney: The two former governors began the race with similarly sized followings, but Pawlenty has since seen the steepest drop off in weekly percent growth of his base since he launched his presidential bid. He trails Romney in the supporters race by roughly 15,000 and seems to have reached a plateau.
Does any of this matter? Yes, says University of Minnesota political communications professor and social media expert Heather LaMarre. “But it’s not how much you tweet, it’s how much you can get those followers to re-tweet and push out your message for you,” she said.
LaMarre’s research from the 2010 cycle also found a small but statistically significant relationship between the number of a political figure’s followers and winning an election.
Note: This post was updated from an earlier version to correct Twitter data for Michele Bachmann.