Palin's Short-lived Online Impact Dims McCain's Chances

As the presidential race enters its long-last homestretch this weekend, Barack Obama continues to leverage his online advantage to feed his campaign’s insatiable appetite for campaign contributions to fuel his massive advertising blitz (Exhibit A: last night’s nationwide infomercial). Compete’s most recent data on traffic to the candidates’ websites shows that attracted over 3 million unique visitors last week, compared to the 1.3 million that visited

Absent an October surprise in the final weekend of the race, John McCain faces stiff odds of turning the latest polls around at this late date and his VP choice appears to have been an ill-timed and poorly placed bet. The table below compares the candidates across several web stats in September, including Compete’s FaceTime metric which measures the candidates’ share of voice with voters online.

By most measures, Obama leads McCain handiy online. And while McCain’s Wikipedia article was more widely read than Obama’s last month, this was due largely to spill-over from readers seeking information on Sarah Palin. For the second straight month, Palin’s Wikipedia article was the most popular on the site with nearly 1.4 million readers, 11% of whom also read McCain’s article. Joe Biden, despite his knack for saying things he and the Obama campaign later regret, has largely been a non-factor in this race as voters have focused elsewhere. Interestingly, Cindy McCain received more attention last month on Wikipedia than the Democratic VP candidate.

McCain gambled when selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate, hoping she could help him pick off disenfranchised Clinton supporters while somehow, at the same time, help him curry favor with long skeptical social conservatives. That bet seemed a long shot at the time and appears to have not worked out as intended. Certainly Palin’s addition to the ticket has added much-needed youth and vitality to the campaign, but her poor showings in limited press interviews combined with suggestions of impropriety in her governing of Alaska over the past few weeks have dimmed her Halo effect on the race and with it McCain’s chances. When the economic crises struck last month, McCain and Palin’s combined limited economic experience handicapped the campaign’s ability to present a compelling case to voters that they could lead the nation out of this mess if elected.

As Americans became more familiar with Palin last month, interest in her as a candidate was replaced in many ways with interest in Tina Fey’s characterization of her on Saturday Night Live. The chart below compares Sarah Palin article readership on Wikipedia with searches for her on YouTube and show that interest in Sarah Palin on Wikipedia subsided soon after the Republican National Convention as the popular press recovered from their flat footedness. For the week of September 14th, following the season premiere of SNL, searches for "Sarah Palin" made up for 2.5% of all searches on YouTube as viewers rushed to find video clips of the SNL sketch. YouTube interest in Sarah Palin repeatedly spiked after subsequent episodes of SNL and for the month of September, "Sarah Palin" was the most widely searched for term on the video sharing website. Undoubtedly these sketches made an impact on the race.

It has been a very long race and I have enjoyed following it for Compete and adding my commentary and analysis of our data to the nationwide political conversation. Win or lose on Tuesday, Obama’s mastery of the web is sure to be studied and mimicked by political hopefuls in future elections.

Check out all of Compete’s 2008 Presidential Election coverage here:

About Matt Pace:
As VP of Millward Brown Digital’s financial services, retail and consumer products practices, Matt is responsible for vertical growth and strategy and the delivery of digital insights and best practice marketing consulting to leading Fortune 500 advertisers. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattpace.

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