This past week, frontrunner status in the 2012 presidential election flipped from former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to Texas Gov. Rick Perry a little more than a week after Perry threw his hat in the ring. Has online chatter continued to trend in Perry’s favor too?

General Sentiment, a New York- and Charlotte-based technology company, measured the buzz surrounding the two top candidates since last Thursday by tracking mentions of Romney and Perry in mainstream online media, social media and across the Web.

Perry announced his candidacy on Aug. 13, and by earlier this week he had overtaken Romney by double digits in the most recent Gallup poll. It was one of the first polls of the presidential campaign taken after Perry entered, and the first to show the Texas governor leading by a wide margin.

The General Sentiment data showed that Perry’s Gallup numbers spiked as the media spotlight on him intensified. Mentions of Perry in the 5,000-plus online media outlets General Sentiment monitors soared to nearly 90,000 from Aug. 18, the date of our last Mention Machine post, through Aug. 26.

Over the same period, Romney registered a relatively puny 15,150 mentions, nearly six times less than Perry’s number.

Perry was also dominating the conversation on social-media channels, including blogs, Facebook and Twitter during that time period. Perry was mentioned 30,365 times on social media since last Thursday, while Romney got 3,231 mentions on the same media, amounting to a mere one-tenth of Perry’s attention.

Earlier this week, The Fix’s Aaron Blake asked if Perry’s strong start to the race would follow the paths of Gen. Wesley Clark (D) and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who made big splashes early in their runs, but fizzled out too early to claim the GOP nods.

Perry has made his splash - and much of his huge lead in media attention is due to his recent entry; Romney was covered more heavily when he first announced his candidacy (and in the last presidential cycle, when he was also a candidate).

What about the tone of those talking about Romney and Perry on Twitter or Facebook, commenting on blogs or writing articles about them? General Sentiment assigned a score to each mention of the candidates on the entire Web (both social and news media) to determine negative or positive sentiment on a scale of negative ten to positive ten.

The winner? Romney came out ahead of Perry in a landslide with a net positive score of 218, while Perry had a net positive of 66. The scores, however, varied significantly according to the days on which they were measured.

Romney only spent one of the eight days we monitored sentiment in negative territory, earning a negative 31 this past Sunday. However, Perry ended the day with negative net scores three times, bottoming out at negative 40 on Wednesday.

The sentiment scores indicate that being on top may come with a higher negative price tag. But in Perry’s case, it looks as if a bright, albeit harsh spotlight, may well be worth it. Only time will truly tell.

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.


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