January 31, 2012

Mapping Cyberscapes of the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary

They've given us gems like "I like being able to fire people", suggesting that we replace professional janitors with dozens of children from working-class homes in order to cut costs. And a bunch of other crazy inventive stuff. In an indirect way, they've also given us new vocabulary words, parodies and re-interpretations. They've also provided the raw material necessary for a range of user-generated, web 2.0, prosumptive behavior. So even though you may be a little bit frightened, you should also thank them -- albeit not necessarily with your vote.

But with the Republican presidential primaries already well underway (and today being the Florida primary), we thought it a good time to dig a bit deeper than the superficial soundbites coming from the candidates. So in this post we're understanding the geography of these candidates via pythagoric numerology and haruspicy. Ha! Just kidding, we will be looking at the distribution of geotagged online content like always. After all that's the whole point of the blog and something we've done previously for European political leaders, as well as the 2010 election in the UK and the 2008 US Presidential election. Just sometimes we dream about a change....

So what are the geographies of the 2012 GOP primary like? Is it possible for these cyberscapes to help us predict election outcomes? Are they total hogwash? Just pretty colors?
Mapping references to each of the original eight GOP contenders, one sees that the two current front runners for the nomination, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, actually have very few references relative to the other candidates. It seems evident then that these cyberscapes show a lesser degree of differentiation between candidates than is evident in the primary results thusfar.

One of the clearest patterns is the plethora of references to Rick Perry across his home state and the very few outside of Texas. Given Texas' minimal influence on the nomination process, it's likely that he now wishes he was from Iowa. There is a similar, albeit much smaller, pocket of references to Jon Huntsman in his home of Salt Lake City, while Minnesota has a cluster of references to US Representative Michele Bachmann.

But most evident is the vast swath of territory, with no real conformity to political borders, that is dominated by references to Ron Paul. Libertarians are everywhere! It's nice that the federally funded national highway system is there to help speed their movement!
Even removing the candidates that have now dropped out of the race, Ron Paul's dominance in the cyberscape of the Republican primary field is evident. While Paul's prevalence in geocoded references isn't reflected in the polling numbers in the real election, it isn't entirely surprising. As we saw over two years ago with Barack Obama's disproportionate prominence in Google Maps content, Ron Paul's prominence online is certainly a reflection of his campaign's use of the internet as a primary organizing tool.

But since the electoral system in the US is really so dependent upon what happens at the state-level we thought it worthwhile to stray from our usual method of measuring cyberscapes on a more flexible, point-by-point basis and instead aggregate references on a state-by-state basis [1].
It doesn't seem, however, to make much of a difference in the relative visibility of the different candidates. Ron Paul's seeming dominance over the virtual landscape remains a fact, while Mitt Romney wins only his home state of Massachusetts as well as Utah and Alabama and Gingrich winning just his home state of Georgia. Santorum's "win" in Oregon is primarily due to his "Google problem", with numerous references to the alternative meaning in Eugene [2].

So, if one were to use this map as a prediction of victories in GOP primaries, Ron Paul would easily be the next Republican presidential candidate. Indeed, according to references alone, Ron Paul would have won each of the three primaries that have already taken place (of which he actually won zero).

This aptly highlights the difference between online activism and offline activism. Not that we really needed a reminder after all the protest events of last year. Moreover it will be some time (thank goodness!) before Google Maps can be used to predict presidential elections. Although we're sure that someone is developing an app as we speak.

But one thing is clear, based on these maps we feel that there despite his love of conspiracy theories about the New World Order, Ron Paul might actually be the one controlling the internet.
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[1] States shaded grey are representative of no clear "winner" in the number of geocoded references to the candidates. Either there were no references to the candidates' names or at least two candidates were tied for the greatest number of references -- essentially the same reasoning as the many points with no dots on the other maps above.
[2] Which brings up the role of Google and code in how places are represented online.

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