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December 17, 2007

The social profile of political candidates

by Josh Bernoff

We don't normally do political polling. But when we did our last Social Technographics survey I got sneaky. I asked people who they were voting for. The result is a fascinating peek into the minds and social behaviors of voters. The full report is available to Forrester clients here, but I'll share the data we published with all of you blog readers below.

First, for your reference, here's the social technographics ladder again, most current version. As we described this spring, it show how people are at different levels of participation in social activities, and the groups can overlap.


Just as with business travelers, we can apply this to any group of people we can identify. So let's see how social participation differs among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. (For the purposes of this survey we classified people who usually vote Democrat as Democrat and people who usually vote Republican as Republicans -- the Independents are those who don't consistently vote one way or another. There weren't enough third-part types for us to get their profile.) Here's the data (over 10,000 online people surveyed nationally):


Right away you can see there is a persistent tendency for Democrats to participate more fully in social technologies. Looking at the index (all adults = 100), you can see that Democrats are at least 10% more likely to do just about anything involving social technologies. The Republicans are the opposite -- they're a lot LESS likely to participate (like Nixon's "silent majority"). They're 22% less likely to be a social network (Joiners) and 21% less likely to be uploading video or blogging (Creators). These are not extreme differences, but there are definite tendencies here, likely correlated to the fact that Republicans tend to be older than Democrats on the average. Notice that the Republicans are near par for Spectators, though -- they're watching, even if they're not as active participants. The Independents are somewhere in the middle, approaching the average in Joiner and Critic activity.

Now let's look at it by who people are voting for. Here's how the Democratic field looks (these are the top four most popular candidates in our national survey; we included Al Gore in the survey in case he decided to enter the race). Remember, these are the profile of the candidates' supporters.


There are important differences among democrats. One in three Obama voters is a Joiner, which may be helping the my.barackobama.com strategy. Edwards voters (62% Spectators) are the most likely to be consuming social applications; Clinton voters are the least, with only 49% Spectators and 42% Inactives. 34% of Gore voters are Critics -- he ought to connect with them in some sort of community or forum to make them a force for his issues in the general election. Obama, Clinton, and Edwards voters are all rich with Creators (at least 22% of their supporters) -- energize those voters and they'll start getting the Spectators excited.

The profile of supporters of Republicans is perhaps the most revealing:


Note the relatively anemic levels of Creator participation -- no Republican gets above 16%. The Creators are the voters who energize everybody else with their contribution. As we get into the general election, which of these candidates can energize the online social world? (Ron Paul, who didn't get enough votes in our poll to generate a profile, clearly could, but it seems unlikely that he'll get the chance.) It's also interesting that Mitt Romney's supporters are more active than the rest of the Republicans' -- he ought to be doing more than just having his offspring blog.

Interestingly, while as far as I know we haven't been contacted by the candidates since we published this research, we have been getting some interest from other companies. Why? Because marketers see the social drama playing out in the election and want to see what lessons can be drawn for their own brands.

Listen folks -- I can do this type of analysis for just about any group of consumers. What would you like to see next?


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Mark Rauterkus

I'm a creator.

I'm a Ron Paul supporter.

Did you over looked the guy who is with the most grassroots support?

Idiot findings are sure to flow from that.

Yahoo's politcal buzz is dumb. I'd expect that from them. But, from you too???

Josh Koenig

Did you ask about age at all? Generational demographics around social technology reveal pretty stark divides. Given that Democrats generally have the support of as much as a 2/3 of the under-30 age bracket (a change from the turning of the millennium, when youth were split pretty much 50/50), it seems to me that much of their advantage at the top end of the ladder may just be by virtue of having a less geriatric pool of citizens.

Not that this isn't still very interesting, and significant. I'm just wondering if you had crosstabs or something. ;)

Josh Bernoff

Thanks for the note, Mark.

Unfortunately, the number of Ron Paul supporters in our 10,000 person survey was too small to profile as a group.

He may have the highest proportion of grassroots activists in his supporter group, but that doesn't mean he has the most supporters.

Josh Bernoff

@Josh Koenig -- you're right about the age skew. I think this strongly affects the democrat/republican tendencies, but it doesn't explain the differences between individual candidates.

Dan Ancona

Josh B this is fascinating stuff. Thanks for posting and I may just have to buy the report because I bet the crosstabs are full of goodies.

I have one question though, maybe for future research, about conversion. You assert that "Creators are the voters who energize everybody else with their contribution" - the question is how much of that energy goes on to be converted to votes or, at least, actual campaign activity. (i.e. participating in a field program) This is a critical question for people working on campaigns, because it seems like a candidate can have a ton of on-line support that translates into close to nothing in terms of votes or polling. Thoughts?

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