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The Facebook Election: Can the Social Network Predict Winners in the 2010 Midterms?

In some races, there are large gaps in the number of friends various competitors have. Is that an indicator of how they’ll do at the polls?

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In Nevada, Republican challenger Sharron Angle is not only leading Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the polls, she’s also far ahead on the social nets. When we started writing this story, Angle’s Facebook page had 104,059 fans vs. a mere 14,348 for Reid. Angle is also leading when it comes to voter sentiment–by four points, according to the latest Rasmussen poll. And Facebook’s public policy team says that Angle is piling on new supporters at a faster rate than Reid. In the last two weeks, Angle’s Facebook fan base grew by 10,500, vs. just 921 for Reid.

So does that mean Angle will knock Reid out of the Senate on election day next Tuesday? It’s anyone’s guess. We asked Facebook, and as far as they know, no one’s taken a hard look at the correlation between activity on Facebook and victory at the polls. But based on some of the primary races they looked at, Reid might want to start harvesting Farmville for friends. “Many candidates who won their primary races had more Facebook fans than their opponents and actively posted campaign updates on their Facebook Pages,” Facebook’s manager of public policy communications Andrew Noyes tells Fast Company in an email.

Take everyone’s favorite state this election season: Delaware. On the primary day, not-a-witch Republican Senate contender Christine O’Donnell’s Facebook page had four times as many fans as opponent Rep. Mike Castle. On the day of Washington, D.C.’s primary, Vince Gray, who unseated Mayor Adrian Fenty, had twice as many fans as his rival. And in New York, Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino had 20% more fans when he beat his better known opponent Rick Lazio.

A more rigorous analysis of the correlation between Facebook activity and political outcomes needs to be undertaken before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. But for any candidate who’s trailing their competitor on the social network, it probably wouldn’t hurt to try to recruit some new fans. (And yes, we’re looking at you Florida Governor Charlie Crist (101,127 fewer fans than his Republican rival Marco Rubio), Kentucky congressional contender Jack Conway (74,285 fewer fans than Republican Rand Paul), and California congressional challenger Carly Fiorina (half as many fans as Democratic incumbent Rep. Barbara Boxer).

About the author

E.B. Boyd (@ebboyd) has holed up in conference rooms with pioneers in Silicon Valley and hunkered down in bunkers with soldiers in Afghanistan.

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