You might think that Facebook's millions of U.S. users would be a good resource for anyone who wants to get a sense of what people are thinking about politics in (almost) real time. The news site Politico clearly agrees, as it's just struck a partnership to measure the political sentiments of Facebook users.
Under the terms of the partnership, which was announced today, Politico readers will be given inside looks at the Facebook conversations taking place in advance of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary on January 21. It's not clear if the partnership extends beyond that date.
As Facebook put it:
Facebook will compile mentions of the candidates in U.S. users' posts and comments as well as assess positive and negative sentiments expressed about them. Facebook's data team will use automated software tools frequently used by researchers to infer sentiment from text. This information will be exclusively available on POLITICO with analysis by its journalists.
The initial results of the partnership, which ran on Politico this morning, revealed that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas congressman Ron Paul dominated the attention of Facebook users going into the New Hampshire primary earlier this week:
According to an exclusive survey of all U.S. Facebook users provided to POLITICO by Facebook, the volume of posts, status updates, links shared to friends' walls and user comments about Romney in the days leading up to the Granite State primary predicted a strong finish.
On Jan. 10, primary day, Romney reached over 100,000 mentions on the social network, about the same number as Ron Paul, who finished second in New Hampshire.
Although Paul finished 17 points behind Romney in New Hampshire, his prowess on social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, where he has legions of devoted fans eager to spread his message, is well-known.
This, of course, makes it clear that no one should expect the numbers coming from Facebook to reflect actual voting patterns. For example, while Romney and Paul were about even on primary day in terms of Facebook mentions, Romney won New Hampshire by more than 16 percentage points. Still, the Facebook data gives a good sense of what young people are thinking. In particular, it's that Paul is far more popular among young voters than he is among the general electorate.