SAN FRANCISCO Fred Thompson was the leading Republican contender for the presidency among Web visitors, even before he officially announced his candidacy, according to a new survey by Nielsen//NetRatings.
The survey, released Sept. 6, analyzed visitor traffic to the official Web sites of presidential candidates in July.
Senator Barack Obama had the most unique visitors of all candidates, with 717,000, readily outpacing fellow Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, who had 437,000 and 348,000 unique visitors, respectively, per the survey. Thompson came in next with 381,000.
Thompson, a former Tennessee senator and Law and Order star, has relied heavily upon the Internet to generate political exposure this year. He officially announced he was running Sept. 5 in a Webcast on Fred08.com, where his online traffic is now directed.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani ranked second among Republicans online and Mitt Romney ran a close third, with 124,000 and 116,000 unique visitors, respectively. Ron Paul and John McCain rounded out the Republican campaign Web sites with 113,000 and 104,000 unique visitors, respectively, according to the survey.
"Republicans have been slower to take advantage of the Web in their presidential campaigns, but Fred Thompson may be taking a cue from his Democratic counterparts," said Carolyn Creekmore, senior director of media analytics at Nielsen//NetRatings. "Rather than shying away from buzz, the Thompson campaign is actively engaging in an online conversation. Thompson's online announcement is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton's."
On video-sharing site YouTube, Democrats' politically related video content was more popular than Republicans' submissions, with 475,000 unique visitors in July, compared to the Republicans' 275,000, per the survey. But visitors to the Republican videos were staying longer, with an average visit lasting more than 3.5 minutes, compared to less than 90 seconds spent viewing Democratic content.
Other data reinforce the Nielsen//NetRatings' findings. In the days leading up to Thompson's announcement of his candidacy, blog buzz rose significantly around the keyword "Fred Thompson" in reference to president, according to Nielsen BuzzMetrics' BlogPulse. (Both Nielsen//NetRatings and Nielsen BuzzMetrics are siblings of Adweek.)
Also, during the week ending Sept. 8, Thompson's site accounted for 35 percent of all the Web traffic to presidential candidates' sites, per Hitwise. Obama and Paul each snagged 13 percent of the traffic and Clinton received 10 percent. Edward trailed with 7 percent of the Web visits, according to Hitwise.