One of the biggest surprised for me the night that Rob Ford was elected mayor was how quickly he was declared the winner. Just eight minutes after the polls officially closed, Mr. Ford was wearing a ceremonial lei around his neck.
And while the Ford camp was celebrating, the Twittersphere was burning up with anti-Ford chatter. It was impossible to keep up with the tsunami of tweets using the #voteto or #cp24 hashtag, the overwhelming majority of which were anti-Ford. Reactions ranged from absolute shock to seething rage and disgust, directed to both Ford and the Toronto electorate.
Even TV station CP24, which has adopted the inane practice reading cherry picked tweets to its television viewers, commented on anti-Ford outcry, asking, “how did this guy get elected, when there seems to be such a negative reaction online?” Given earlier analysis that showed that 80% of election talk was taking place on the micro blogging service, I thought the question merited closer inspection.
In comparing those who intended to vote for Mr. Ford or Mr. Smitherman to the audience that is on Twitter I used the most accurate poll of voter intentions collected by Ekos, which called a Ford win by 8% (he won by a 10% margin.) The Twitter data is from a Canadian general population survey conducted by Northstar Research at the end of last year, meaning it may be a little old and broad, but I think that it still tells a good story.
There are two things that can be observed from this data. The first is that Ford did remarkably well with people who clearly aren’t on Twitter. Over 60% of people aged 65+ planned on voting for Ford, while less than 10% of that population is on Twitter. And the senior set is a group that has both the desire and time to cast a ballot. Amongst people aged 25-44, the heaviest Twitter users, voting intention was almost even.
Looking at education we see another stark divide. Clearly, those that have spent more time at school, are heavier Twitter users and are more likely to have voted for Smitherman. People with a high school education or less were twice as likely to vote for Ford, yet are half as likely to be on Twitter compared to the University educated.
So, what are we to make of all of this? There clearly seems to be something to the notion put forward by Richard Florida and others that there’s a divide emerging between the Creative Class and the masses, both in terms of voter intentions and social media participation. The people talking about the election online, are only a sub-set of the 50% of the eligible voters who cast a ballot on election day.
With each election that passes, there’s a lot of talk about how candidates can make effective use of social media to get their message out. Brands are confronting the same challenges and opportunity. But this election shows that there are still large swatches of the population that have not yet “joined the conversation.”
So when the Twittersphere raged against the Ford victory, how many of his supporters heard the outcry? How many of them even cared? It begs the question, is there a risk in social media that we are sometimes talking to the same people over and over? Are we preaching to the converted?
What do you think?