The Facebook Election

BELCHATOW, POLAND - APRIL 06, 2014: Facebook application on smart phone screen.

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BuzzFeed takes a look at the power of Facebook during US elections.

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At some point in the next two years, the pollsters and ad makers who steer American presidential campaigns will be stumped: The nightly tracking polls are showing a dramatic swing in the opinions of the electorate, but neither of two typical factors — huge news or a major advertising buy — can explain it.

They will, eventually, realise that the viral, mass conversation about politics on Facebook and other platforms has finally emerged as a third force in the core business of politics, mass persuasion.

Facebook is on the cusp — and I suspect 2016 will be the year this becomes clear — of replacing television advertising as the place where American elections are fought and won. The vast new network of some 185 million Americans opens the possibility, for instance, of a congressional candidate gaining traction without the expense of television, and of an inexpensive new viral populism. The way people share will shape the outcome of the presidential election. Even during the 2014 midterms, which most Americans ignored, Facebook says it saw 43 million unique individuals engage in the political conversation. Now a rawly powerful video may reach far more voters in a few hours than a multimillion-dollar ad buy; and it will reach them from trusted sources — their friends — not via suspect, one-way channels.

And so we at BuzzFeed News are deeply excited to have nearly exclusive access (it’s shared with a broadcast partner, ABC News) to a powerful new window into the largest political conversation in America. This data will be drawn from a Facebook project working in the tricky field of “sentiment analysis,” the attempt to analyze people’s feelings based on what they write, which we think may be the most important new source of political data in the 2016 elections. This project will allow BuzzFeed News reporters to ask Facebook for data on, for instance, how Iowans feel about Hillary Clinton, or which Republican candidate appears to be best liked by women.

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