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, a former Slate politics reporter, 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.
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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 "TrustCurtis.com," 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. ViralRead.com, 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, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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