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On Social Media, The Senate Campaign Takes Some Unexpected Twists

BOSTON — When it comes to predicting the outcome of political races, social media isn’t terribly useful.

A recent Pew Research Center study found Twitter users, for instance, skew younger and more liberal than the general population.

But social media analytics can tell us something about what voters are thinking and talking about over the course of the campaign.

And the results are sometimes surprising.

Crimson Hexagon, a Boston-based social media analytics firm, has examined the Twitter and Facebook chatter around the Massachusetts U.S. Senate special election pitting Democrat Edward Markey against Republican Gabriel Gomez.

Among the findings: the June 11 debate between the two candidates, not even televised in the Boston market, generated far more chatter than President Obama’s high-profile visit to Roxbury Community College the next day to rally support for Markey.

Here’s the volume of social media posts by hour, from the night of June 11 (the debate began at 7 pm) through the afternoon of June 12 (Obama started speaking just before 1:30 pm).

(Source: Crimson Hexagon)

(Source: Crimson Hexagon)

But if Obama hasn’t generated much social media volume in the race, he has generated some good feeling for Markey.

This graphic shows a spike in positive tweets and posts when the president formally endorsed Markey May 28 — and First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to Boston the next day for a fundraiser.

(Source: Crimson Hexagon)

(Source: Crimson Hexagon)

With analysts expecting a low turnout race, motivating the base is of vital importance for both candidates.

And for a Democrat running in Massachusetts — with a relatively popular Democrat in the White House — there are some built-in advantages.

Whether the enthusiasm the president built will last through Election Day is, of course, an open question.

Debates drive traffic

The candidates’ two televised debates, on June 5 and June 11, led to the largest peaks in social media traffic since May 1.

Note the small bump, too, after Gomez called Markey “pond scum” in an interview with NPR May 23.

The "relevant posts" metric weeds out posts gathered by Crimson Hexagon that were not actually related to the campaign. (Source: Crimson Hexagon)

Elizabeth Breese, senior content and digital marketing strategist with Crimson, said men and women tend to comment on politics and elections in even numbers. But the Markey-Gomez race seems to have particular appeal to men.

Here are the posts on the campaign, broken down by the authors’ gender.

(Source: Crimson Hexagon)

(Source: Crimson Hexagon)

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