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Friday, September 11, 2009

What is new media's place in mayor's race?

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Don't read this expecting an answer because I don't know. Obviously, websites and social networking have assumed a prominent position in politics since Howard Dean first used the Internets to build a coalition of Deaniacs and Daily Kos became a must-read blog for millions.

Speaking as a reporter, I find myself questioning a candidate's commitment if he can't be bothered to put up a website. But does Web savvy portend a winning campaign?

Take a look at the three leading candidates for Atlanta mayor. Recent polls say Mary Norwood is leading the pack, followed fairly closely by Lisa Borders, with Kasim Reed trailing. But when it comes to attracting supporters on Facebook, Reed is far and away the front-runner. He's got 4,502 Facebook supporters, compared with 2,886 for Borders and a mere 881 for Norwood.

According to Emory University associate professor Michael Leo Owens, as quoted in the AJC, “This will be the Facebook election.” Does that mean Borders and Norwood should pack it in?

Over on Twitter, Reed has 1,817 followers, despite the fact that he posts only once or twice a day. Borders, slightly more prolific, has 2,085 followers. Norwood, who can go several days between tweets, has only 195 followers.

What's the significance of all these numbers? Are they an accurate reflection of overall voter support or do they merely indicate generational differences between the candidates' core supporters? In Norwood's case, I'd definitely say the latter. This is a woman who's probably met each of her supporters face-to-face at one time or another. Personal contact beats virtual contact any day.

I'm guessing most people reading this page have strong feelings about the importance of social networking and online communication. What do you make of these stats? Do they mean anything?

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