Facebook Tells Tale of Voter Turnout

Facebook's data team posted a report on patterns in this week's voter turnout based on what people indicated on their profiles. Those who are beginning to think about 2012 contests ought to pay closest attention.

As the dust settles from this week’s election tallies, Facebook has proven to be a source for assessing voter turnout, in addition to the previously much reported predictions of voter sentiment and candidate support. The social networking site’s data team posted a report on patterns in who voted this week. Those who are already beginning to think about 2012 contests ought to pay closest attention here.

The Facebook data team acknowledged that the data has its own selection bias due to how frequently people visit the site and the lack of any ability to verify information posted on the social network. I wonder how many well-intentioned people may have posted that they voted and perhaps never made it to the polls, and how much would that skew the findings. Perhaps the measurements of sentiment are more accurate than turnout, I’m guessing.

A rather depressing data point — at least for Democrats like yours truly — is the finding that Dems were three percent less likely than Republicans to vote. Had the turnout been more equal, this could have reversed the outcome of numerous races for gubernatorial and House of Representatives seats. Facebook’s researchers didn’t say whether this would have been enough to keep Nancy Pelosi in the Chairman seat, but those of us who live in California can reflect on that while brooding over our reduced influence in the House.

So were Nancy’s constituents too distracted by the World Series to go vote? The timing of the game may have influenced voter turnout, although not in the way that many people expected. Facebook’s data team said:

It was expected that the winners of this year’s World Series would get a boost in voters, while the loser would see a decline. As we can see from the chart above, 6% fewer Rangers fans voted than Giants fans (go Giants!), but without any longitudinal data it is impossible to know if winning or playing in the world series had a causal effect on voter turnout. Results, however, are suggestive. It is worth noting that both Giants fans and Rangers fans turned out at rates significantly lower than others in those states (California and Texas). Having the last game of the World Series the night before the election probably means some people weren’t in the right mindset to go out and vote the very next morning.

Age may have had more influence on turnout than sporting events, according to a graph posted on Facebook and copied below the explanation from the social network’s data team:

If you’re wondering if youth today are apathetic about voting, this graph is striking proof that of this fact. The height of voter turnout peaks at 65 years of age, while the lowest turnout occurs at 18 years of age. In fact, a 65 year old is almost 3 times as likely to vote as a younger counterpart. This tracks results collected from traditional exit polls, which also show a 30% turnout gap between younger voters and older voters. Furthermore, while Democrats were able to mobilize as many young voters as Republicans, Republicans were far more successful at mobilizing older voters.

I think subsequent election campaign advertisers can learn the most from this data. The next time around, ads can be more targeted to the demographics that didn’t show up strongly enough at the polls.