Polls are as discredited as they should be. So I’m thinking about writing my Guardian column next week about all the new metrics we have to take the pulse of the nation on the internet. Please help me out with numbers you follow.
None of these is representative or certainly scientific. And many of them can be manipulated — which is just the point of them; they put metrics in the hands of movements that use them to make themselves known: witness Ron Paul’s devoted cult and how they played YouTube like an organ. I speculated after Iowa that one reason for Obama’s success there was the campaign’s ability to organize a critical mass of young supporters in the social services.
The new internet campaign metrics also let us sense trends that aren’t so manipulable, if we know where to look.
Among these metrics (many tracked by TechPresident):
* Mainstream media coverage: Here‘s Daylife’s track of Clinton v Obama v Edwards in the last 30 days. It shows Clinton coverage is ahead in coverage until a surge in Obama’s around Iowa with a dropoff in Edwards’. This kind of analysis is possible now that all the coverage is being gathered and analyzed. Before, we couldn’t so easily measure the perspectives and prejudices of media coverage; now we can. Last April, I used cruder measures to show that the MSM narrative emphasized Obama while the polls still gave more attention to Clinton.
* Google searches: Here, in a chart representing December 2007 in the U.S., we see Clinton generally ahead of Obama but with her falling and then showing a resurgence. What do searches indicate? I think they can at least measure interest if not affection or affiliation.
* AdWords demand: You can get an idea of the market value for a keyword on Google AdWords. Clinton shows an average cost-per-click of $2.30-3.15 vs. $1.04-1.30 for Obama and $1.02-1.27 for Edwards. I’m not 100 percent sure how to interpret this — that is, what factors influence this (such as relative traffic) — but there is higher demand for the Clinton keyword. That’s a market speaking.
* Blog mentions: OK, we’re not representative but there are lots of us and what we say can be tracked via Blogpulse and Technorati. The other day, I tracked the “change” meme in the Obama campaign here. This chart shows Clinton ahead of Obama and Edwards until Iowa and now they’re even.
* Textual analysis: We get to analyze the candidates’ language as well. In this post, I took the transcript of the Democratic debate in New Hampshire and used Tagcrowd to find out that they used the word “change” more than “health” or “economy” or “iraq.”
* Web traffic: This Alexa chart shows Obama solidly ahead in traffic to his site. Compete shows Clinton and Obama leapfrogging each other with a spurt in Obama traffic pre-Iowa.
* Video traffic: TubeMogul adds up YouTube views and shows Obama way ahead with 9.5m vs. 4.6m for Clinton and 4.5m for Edwards (on the GOP, Ron Paul beats them all with 10.5m followed by Huckabee with 4.8m — a surprise to me — Romney with 3.8m, Giuliani with 1.8m, and McCain with 1.2m)
* Microblogging traffic: Obama as 6,667 followers on Twitter, Edwards 4,167 (and his final post came two months ago), Clinton has a big 223 (not her medium, apparently). That is, two of the three said it’s not worth it.
* Social sites: TechPresident has been doing a great job tracking the candidates’ friends. On Facebook, Obama has long been ahead with 235k vs. 71k for Clinton and 35k for Edwards (on the Republican side, Paul is ahead with 72k and Huckabee comes in next with 40k). MySpace: Obama has long led with 225k vs. 162k for Clinton and 52k for Edwards (on the GOP side, Paul is again leader with 114k vs. 41k for McCain, 33k for Romney, and 28k for Huckabee).
* Donors: Of course, we always have money. A recent AP story said that Clinton raised $24 million in the latest quarter vs. $22.5m for Obama and $4.5m for Edwards (the Washington Post said that Clinton and Obama each raised more than $100m in 2007). The other important story is the number of donors. Obama was doing a great job getting lots of small donors — who, as I said here, became invested in the campaign. But USA Today said that for July to September, Clinton exceeded him, 100k to 93k.
* Prediction markets: NewsFuture’s market has a dead heat for the Democratic race — Obama 50% to Clinton 49% (on the Republican side, McCain leads at 44% with Giuliani next at 25%). By the way, whoever wins that race, NewsFuture’s predictors give the Democrats a 65% change of winning in the fall. InTrade is more complex with lots of contracts that get a market value. For the nomination, Clinton’s contracts are on top at 56.8 over Obama at 40.8 and Edwards 1.5. For the November election, Clinton’s contracts are selling for 37.2 vs. Obama for 25.0, McCain 17.6, Giuliani 6.5, Huckabee 4.4, Edwards 0.5.
* Odds: Linesmaker‘s rundown in another market: Clinton 7-5, Obama 2-1, McCain 7-2, Giuliani 8-1, Romney 15-1, Edwards 30-1, Thompson 50-1 — and Michael Bloomberg 5-1.
What other metrics do you know of and follow?
So what does all this tell us? Who the hell knows? The truth is that there is no reliable predictor — certainly not the polls. But there are many ways to try to sniff out trends and many ways to organize people to make those trends happen.