Lipstick Happens: McCain's VP Pick Shakes up the Race, Online Too

Now this race is really getting interesting.

The announcements in August of Senator Joe Biden and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as their party’s Vice Presidential candidates have defined the race over the last few weeks. After long trailing in national and battleground polls, fundraising and the all important buzz factor, McCain’s surprising choice served as both a shot in the arm for the GOP base and a punch to the gut for Democrats. An updated Tale of the Tape table now shows a narrowing race on all fronts.

As shown in the chart below, both campaigns got a bump in site traffic after their VP announcements; however, the McCain campaign’s smart tactic of announcing Palin’s name the day after Obama’s speech in Denver helped grab the national media attention away from the Democratic nominee. The ensuing Palin frenzy helped McCain do what was once unthinkable: rival Obama’s online reach for an entire week (albeit the week of the Republican National Convention).

Palin, a political unknown only a few short weeks ago, has had an undeniable impact on the race as she fast becomes a household name across the country. Web searches for Palin totaled 2.8 million on the day of McCain’s announcement, and remained above 1 million through the Republican convention the following week. With the national media unprepared for the pick, Americans turned to Wikipedia in droves to find information on Palin. Nearly 1.2 million people read Palin’s Wikipedia article within the first 36 hours following the announcement, making hers the most popular article on the site in August, and leaving Michael Phelps just a silver medal to go with his eight golds from Beijing.

Not only is Palin driving more people to McCain’s campaign, but importantly, Palin is bringing out more women. The gender split among JohnMcCain.com visitors has shifted from 48% female prior to Palin’s announcement, to 52% over the past two weeks. Regardless of whether these are GOP faithful just now warming to McCain’s candidacy, or disaffected Clinton supporters testing the Palin waters, even a modest female break toward McCain could spell trouble for Obama.

Coming at the end of August, Palin’s entry in the race had only a modest impact on McCain’s FaceTime share last month; however, McCain was still able to make up ground on Obama thanks in large part to his growing website traffic, as well as continued sharp attack advertisements found on YouTube (as well as other video sharing websites.) The FaceTime metric measures total time spent with candidates online and the chart below illustrates the degree to which McCain and Obama are attracting the attention of voters across leading social networks and video sharing websites as well as on each candidate’s official sites. In just four months, McCain’s FaceTime share has risen five-fold from 7% to 38%.

In addition to popular attack ads launched in July, which continued to get significant play last month, the McCain camp found viral success last month with a video staring Joe Biden himself. The ad, "Joe Biden on Barack Obama" which features a clip of Biden questioning Obama’s readiness to be president, has registered nearly a million views to date. Obama also found YouTube success in August with his "Seven" ad, which paints McCain as out of touch on the economy and criticizes his ownership of multiple homes. While Obama has long been the political king of YouTube, this latest video was his first in over six months to register close to a million views, whereas McCain has posted three videos in the past two months that have attracted a million or more views.

Historically, the selection of a VP candidate has had little impact on the results come Election Day. In this race of multiple "firsts," however, and with less than 50 days remaining before American’s cast their votes, history could be trumped once again.

About Matt Pace:
As VP of Retail and Consumer Products at Compete, Matt Pace is responsible for leading a team of client services professionals who deliver digital intelligence and insights to clients in the retail and consumer packaged good industries. Before Matt joined the Compete Team he was a CPA and senior auditor with Deloitte & Touche. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattpace.

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