Mention Machine: Rick Perry swoops in on Twitter traffic

at 03:38 PM ET, 08/17/2011

This past weekend’s political drama in the 2012 presidential race has reverberated throughout the Twitterverse. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s splashy entrance into the GOP contest, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s claiming of the Ames Straw poll crown and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s early exit from the race have upended the battle for Web buzz in a big way, according to a Post analysis..

We used Topsy, a real-time search engine that indexes Twitter data, to get a read on how the top-tier candidates emerged after the big week that was.

Over the past four days, Perry has gone from a whopping 51,578 mentions on Twitter (these mentions could be both flattering and critical) to a high of 56,398 mentions on Tuesday (the last day we measured, and the one after he mentioned the Fed could be “treasonous” if it printed more money).

Bachmann’s Twitter mentions rose and fell along with her Iowa straw poll victory, peaking at 38,000 on Sunday, the day after her victory.

But Romney was a Twitter dead end, with his Twitter mentions remaining slow and steady at 5,794 on Saturday (straw poll day) to 3,052 on Tuesday.

At this point in the race, Twitter mentions are predictive of, well, nothing about the outcome of the GOP primary. But they do reinforce some theories about the candidates and their stragies thus far, and frame some trends to watch:

Perry makes an entrance: By now, even “Yankees” know Perry is a skilled campaigner who has a proven ability to steal other candidates’ thunder. He officially entered the 2012 campaign on Saturday, the day of the Ames Straw Poll. Did the Texas governor manage to suck some of the attention from Bachmann, the eventual winner, not to mention the other candidates, who were fighting for their political surivival? The social stats indicate that Perry did capture the lion’s share of the tweets about politics on that day, a calculation in keeping with the political class’s statements that Perry has quickly shot into contention as a GOP front-runner.

Burying the leader: Mitt Romney’s decision to forego the Ames Straw Poll made him an afterthought for observers over the marquee campaign weekend. The Fix wrote earlier this week that, post-Ames and Perry, “the one person for whom the game has changed the most is front-runner Mitt Romney.” Three days after Ames, Bachmann and Perry were still trouncing Romney in Twitter mentions.

A large share of the Tweets about Perry and Bachmann were undoubtedly regarding their controversial statements and outright flubs, but the media and Twitter attention that swarmed Iowa over the weekend prove that the former Massachusetts governor missed an opportunity for play there.

More on those flubs: Bachmann has been known to make errant statements, the sort that the Twitterverse loves to perpetuate. On Tuesday, @PostPolitics tweeted about a very minor mishap by Bachmann on the campaign trail. At a stop in Spartanburg, S.C., Bachmann remarked that it was Elvis Presley’s birthday, when it was actually the anniversary of the day he died in 1977. The tweet was re-tweeted by hundreds of our followers and their followers. So far, Bachmann hasn’t made any disastrous errors, but the social web will continue to magnify even the smallest ones.

True to form:: There was one more thing our Topsy data confirmed:Pawlenty’s decision to leave the race on Sunday garnered 16 times more Twitter mentions than his efforts to win Saturday’s Straw Poll did.

Mention Machine is part of a new Washington Post project to track the impact of social media on the 2012 presidential campaign. We’ll post frequently on Washington Post blogs about the relationship between online media buzz and the outcomes of elections.

Read more on PostPolitics.com

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