It was supposed to be a national referendum on an unpopular President, with Republican triumphs almost certain in most toss-up Senate races, including North Carolina.
Yet millions of social conversations between Tar Heel state voters, candidates, and big money special interest groups on Twitter provide compelling clues as to why Democratic Senator Kay Hagan maintains a sliver of a lead over her Republican opponent, the statehouse Speaker Thom Tillis.
How will that viral influence impact the outcome November 4?
For its partner CQ-Roll Call, Verifeed pointed its powerful social search and pattern recognition algorithms at understanding what issues were resonating with voters, who was influencing and amplifying sentiment, and how opinions were changing over time.
It’s education, stupid!
Back in early August, Verifeed found that growing public anger about education spending cuts passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature was resonating on Twitter with growing numbers of North Carolinians.
Democrats and well-funded surrogates were dominating the conversation – so much so that Speaker Tillis and Republicans were completely absent from the education debate on Twitter until late September when Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity entered the fray.
Even then, Sen. Hagan was influencing more than 10 times the voters on public schools and teachers pay, issues more likely to boost turnout among traditional Democratic voters. Her Tweets were shared hundreds of times by 72 unique amplifiers to engage 218,568 voters, while Tillis engaged just 14 to reach 19,106.
Republicans, meanwhile, had focused almost exclusively on criticizing Sen. Hagan for “Obamacare’. The top 20 healthcare influencers are all Republican, and these 20 activists and PACs engaged 2,289,064 people on health in the four weeks through October 15. That was a drop of 23% on the previous month suggesting the GOP strategy in tying Sen. Hagan to ‘Obamacare’ had then reached its limits, and will not change voter opinion at this stage or be a deciding factor in the election.
The Ebola Wildcard
In early October Republicans turned their campaign focus to President Obama’s uncertain and uneven response to Ebola and ISIS, in particular attempting on Twitter to capitalize on growing public fears on these threats.
On Twitter in North Carolina, Republicans engaged more people on Ebola than any other issue – engaging 1,550 unique amplifiers to reach 3.4 million people with Tweets criticizing Sen. Hagan for her initial opposition to a ban on flights from West Africa. That’s more than 10 times the people Republicans engaged on education and three times those they engaged on the economy.
Tweets from Speaker Tillis talked more about Ebola than any other issue (and Republicans were tagging just about every Tweet with the #ebola hashtag). Sen. Hagan continued to focus on education, the economy and ‘get out the vote’ efforts – and by October 25, engagement around Ebola Tweets had tailed off.
Noise Vs. Resonance
Republicans in North Carolina continue to be far “noisier” than Democrats on Twitter.
A relatively small, but very active, cadre of GOP party bosses and workers, Tea Party activists and Super PACs such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and AFPNC, tweeted at a much higher volume than their Democratic counterparts and numerically engaged more people.
The top 10 GOP influencers actively engaged 4,450 unique amplifiers to reach 13,981,055 people, while the top 10 Democratic influencers, by contrast, engaged less than half the unique amplifiers (2,030) and while a 204% jump on the previous month, actively engaged 4,588,673 people.
At first blush, this appears to suggest the Republicans gaining ground on Democrats in a very close race.
However, GOP ‘amplification’ as measured by re-tweets, mentions and changing conversation sentiment, continued to be confined largely within their own ranks. In other words, Tweets from the GOP and Republican candidate, Tea Party activists, and Republican PACs were largely being shared or re-tweeted by the very same people doing the original Tweeting.
So while Republicans reached and engaged more people, these people tended to be already committed to the cause.
Democrats, though reaching smaller numbers on Twitter, have been engaging proportionally more people beyond their own ranks – and may, with resonance on education – explain why Sen. Hagan remains on average two points ahead in current polling.
Early Voting & Voter Registration
Midterm election results often depend on who is most successful ‘getting out the vote’ when it matters, and Democratic influence and amplification on the topic of early voting, voter registration and controversial GOP efforts to restrict both, far outpaces the GOP on all other issues barring Ebola.
Democratic influencers on Twitter engaged 3,159,499 people with pleas to vote early, compared to the GOP’s 412,113.
A unique amplifier is an individual who shares (or re-tweets) an influencer’s Tweet more than once. An influencer starts and changes conversations; their impact is measured by the viral “amplification” of their Tweets (measured by re-tweets and mentions) as well as number and growth of followers.
Verifeed continues to monitor each party’s resonance on Twitter as Election Day approaches to understand the extent to which these conversation patterns are predictive of the ultimate outcome.