The Social Media #Fail of the Mark Sanford Race

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 3 2013 10:54 AM

The Social Media #Fail of the Mark Sanford Race

The GOP primary in South Carolina's first congressional district was almost completely unsurprising. Pundits expected Mark Sanford to ride name recognition into a runoff berth, then to have the advantage in the runoff itself. He did. The only surprise along the way was the defeat of State Sen. Larry Grooms at the hands of Curtis Bostic, a social conservative who edged him for the right to go mano-a-mano contra Sanford.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

The only botched prediction I could find, really, was this one.

An independent analysis by political observer Laughton Chandler has predicted a GOP winner of Tuesday's runoff election: Curtis Bostic.
The prediction was made by analyzing social media. According to the data, Bostic will win with more than 55 percent of the vote. His rival would earn more than 44 percent of the vote.

What in the what? The actual result was 25 points off that: Sanford 57, Bostic 43. Why was a "social media analysis" so wrong?

Simple: The Bostic campaign bet late on social media without really understanding its relevance. In the short two-week stretch of the runoff, the campaign hired roving new media guru Ali Akbar to beef up its presence. Akbar bought the web domain "," and hashtagged the slogan. Rick Santorum, whose PAC has co-sponsored Akbar's CPAC "Blog Bash" parties for two years running, flew down to South Carolina for one day of campaign events with Bostic. On Twitter, certainly, mentions of Bostic surged from nothing to something., a news site co-founded by Akbar in 2012, became a one-stop shop for #SC01 news, with a jaundiced view of Sanford.

Sanford's allies responded with LOLs. Wes Donohue, a media strategist for Sanford, repeatedly mocked the Bostic strategy with tweets. "#trustcurtis to hire the same bloggers who were paid to smear Mitt Romney," he wrote. "#trustbostic to fund an out-of-state blogger to smear a South Carolinian."

The Sanfordites didn't really understand the play. The April 2 election was going to be low-turnout. In 2010, for example, the runoff that started Tim Scott's ascent to Congress saw 68,000 votes cast. The April 2 election turnout was around 47,000. What difference did it make if bloggers outside the district suddenly cared about Bostic?

"This campaign needed delegation and a solid field plan if they didn't have the funds to build rapid name-ID against a candidate with negative name recognition," Akbar told me this morning, before heading back home from the district. "The Bostic campaign had neither. But it did have a candidate of extreme integrity. If we had one more week, we could've got in on fate and momentum."

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?