Mitt Romney is not exactly big on the Internet. After months on the trail, he lags far behind Barack Obama as both a candidate and a topic. Obama nets more supporters and dollars through his online campaign, and draws more traffic in news and search—one of the rawest indicators of what Americans are looking for online.
But is that even a good thing?
Buzzfeed, a popular online bulletin board that dived into politics this year, recently touched on the online disparity with, naturally, an eye-catching headline. “Mitt Romney Is Terrible for Traffic,” the site declared, its horror duly noted.
The article surveyed bloggers and web writers who have learned that “no one wants to read about Mitt Romney.” Lots of data back up that claim.
Presidents do make a lot more news than challengers, however, so it could be unfair to credit Obama for his built-in audience. To combat confounding variables, Buzzfeed also conducted “a sort of controlled experiment” comparing the audience for two similar, equally promoted, photo-driven stories about both men.
The Obama piece didn’t just win, its audience was five times bigger.
“The Obama-centric posts vastly outperformed those about Romney,” BuzzFeed reported. With pictures of Obama “as a young man,” the item may have been popular because of the the prominence of Obama’s “personal narrative,” explained BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins. Just because a piece about Obama is popular, however, does not mean its readers are for Obama.
That was the case with the test post, in fact, and it may reflect a wider trend popping up online.
The post about Obama as a young man, it turns out, drew the majority of its viral views from Obama’s most strident opponents—the websites of two conservative talk radio stars.
About 76 percent of the post’s 46,000 viral views—clicks from referring sites—came via Glenn Beck and Michael Savage. This data was not in the Buzzfeed article about Obama’s traffic edge, but the site’s transparent data dashboard makes the numbers easy to access.