Story highlights

Barack Obama's campaign continues its online dominance, a new study finds

The Obama campaign and its supporters were more active online, the study says

GOP challenger Mitt Romney is closing the gap, Pew says

CNN  — 

Barack Obama’s campaign is making better use of the Internet and social media to reach voters than presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, according to a study released Wednesday.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that Obama’s campaign was more active than Romney’s and generated more response from users on all major platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the campaign websites, in the weeks following Romney’s clinching of the Republican nomination.

For instance, during the June 4-17 study period, Obama’s campaign posted an average of 29 messages per day compared to Romney’s average of one, according to Pew. The Obama campaign website and blog were updated an average of eight times a day, twice as often as Romney’s, Pew found.

Obama’s social media messages also reached a much wider audience, according to Pew.

On Facebook, users expressed support for nearly twice as many Obama posts as they did Romney posts. Twitter users passed along, or retweeted, 150,106 Obama messages to their own followers, compared to 8,601 retweets of Romney posts, according to the study.

Pew said Obama had more than 18 million followers on Twitter when it last audited the account, in August, compared to 787,080 for Romney. Obama’s Facebook page had 27.5 million supporters, compared to 2.9 million for Romney.

The results echo the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s campaign had more than five times the supporters on Facebook as then Republican rival John McCain two months before the election, according to Pew.

At the time, analysts credited Obama’s technologically savvy campaign with helping reach and organize voters, especially among younger supporters.

“While more digital activity does not necessarily translate into more votes, historically candidates who are first to exploit changing technology have an advantage,” project director Tom Rosenstiel said in a statement. “From Roosevelt to Reagan, presidential candidates have used the way they communicate to suggest that they understand how the country is changing.”

The study follows news from June showing that Obama was also leading Romney in the use of online advertising. Obama spent $16.4 million in online advertising in the first few months of 2012, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Romney had spent $7.8 million, according to the filings.

The Pew study released Wednesday focused on the campaigns’ use of social media in early June, shortly after Romney had won enough delegates in state primaries to clinch the GOP presidential nomination.

According to the Pew study:

  • Facebook generated the most attention for both candidates. Obama posts received 1.1 million “likes” during the study period, while Romney got 635,000.
  • Obama’s campaign was significantly more active in directly messaging supporters than was Romney, with 614 posts to Twitter, Facebook and other web platforms. Romney posted 168 such messages during the same period.
  • Obama’s campaign website specifically targets a richer variety of voter groups than does Romney’s, and uses direct messaging to send materials to those voters specifically tailored to their interests. Romney has since closed the gap, but still trails, Pew said.
  • Neither of the candidates were doing much to engage voters in discussion on social media sites or promote citizen viewpoints. Pew found that of the 404 Twitter messages sent by Obama’s campaign during the study period, 3% were retweets of citizen comments. Romney’s camp retweeted just one message – by the candidate’s son.
  • Social media users were more likely to share messages about topics other than the economy. Obama’s economic messages got an average of 361 shares or retweets per post, according to Pew, while messages about immigration received four times the attention. Romney users were more likely to respond to health care and veterans’ issues than economic topics.

Romney’s campaign has closed the gap in some respects since the June study period, the center’s Deputy Director Amy Mitchell said in a statement.

“But there is a long way to go before the Romney team matches the level of activity of the Obama campaign,” Mitchell said.