Power Players

#Campaign: How Twitter is Playing Politics in 2012

Power Players

Political Punch

Twitter -- the next (digital) battleground state. The social media wars are already underway, just check out Twitter foes David Axelrod, of the Obama campaign, and Eric Fehrnstrom, with the Romney campaign. Axelrod tweeted this photo, saying "How loving owners transport their dogs" -- a shot at Mitt Romney, who in the 1980s transported his dog Seamus in a carrier strapped to the roof. Fehrnstrom shot back after someone realized that in his memoir Obama wrote about eating dog as a boy. Fehrnstrom re-tweeted Axelrod's photo with the message: "In hindsight, a chilling photo." It was a debate hashed out -- or hashtagged out -- entirely on Twitter.

Campaigns can use Twitter to get a message out quickly, bypassing television ads or media interviews. And the social media tool is becoming a good predictor of which way the wind is blowing in the election.

"The momentum that shows up in polls two or three days [later] is showing up in a matter of hours on Twitter," said Adam Sharp, Twitter's senior manager for government, news, and social innovation. "In the run up to the Arizona and Michigan primaries, where the polls were neck in neck, the day before you saw a little bit of a flattening in Rick Santorum's follower growth, and a surge in Mitt Romney's follower growth -- and he went on to win both primaries."

Twitter has exploded on Capitol Hill and state legislatures; more than 90 percent of senators, representatives, and governors are on Twitter.  Internationally, one in five world leaders has an account.

"You could today send a tweet to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and get an answer," said Sharp.

On election day 2008, about 1.8 million tweets were sent -- on all topics not just politics. That is just eight minutes' worth of tweets at today's rate of 340 million per day.

Check out this week's Political Punch to see how Twitter is affecting the 2012 election, working its way onto Capitol Hill, and at times, tripping up on its own algorithms.

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