Wendy Davis hasn't even entered the race for Texas Governor yet and the Republican front-runner Greg Abbott is already explaining — thanks to Barbie-gate. The AG may be sitting on over 20 million in the bank but a new study suggests we should be comparing their twitter capital instead.
The Indiana University researchers found that of 406 competitive U.S. congressional elections in 2010, 93% were won by the candidate that received more mentions on twitter.
One of the study's authors told MSNBC, “Candidates have to learn how to play the game on Twitter in order to talk to people that are most predisposed to seeing their perspective,” The problem for Abbott is that “predisposed” characters are associating him with negative values. It seems that the AG gets that Twitter is an important medium to connect with voters but that level of directness and authenticity can come at a heavy price when mistakes are made –especially when they are not addressed quickly, and on Twitter that means immediately. It took over 24 hours for Abbott to respond and when he did the story had already been picked up by national publications. His communications team even distanced themselves from his comments by revealing that he actually tweets himself and “didn't read the full message.” This is a good time to remind folks that Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters. If you make a comment on Twitter you should respond on Twitter, otherwise people get your negative message directly and have to wait for the news to hear your response. This could become a big problem for the Abbott campaign.
Abbott may have been slow to respond because he doesn't want to acknowledge criticism, which is another emerging campaign theme since he has denied his Republican opponent Tom Pauken's request to debate. The real issue with the tweet itself was that it was not just offensive to Wendy Davis but the entire special needs community. The Dallas Morning News agreed,
The Barbie label alone should have been enough, particularly as Abbott struggles to win female voters to his side after a raucous legislative session that helped distance the GOP from many women. But the addition of “retard” and “idiot” made the offense even worse and should have prompted Abbott's immediate and categorical denunciation.
Abbott missed a golden opportunity to take a firm stand for civility in Texas politics.
Wendy's rise to national prominence wasn't just a blip on the ratings map, she managed to capture a huge audience on twitter with her following now at 141,000, compared to Greg Abbott's 22,000. Their report's abstract says, “Republican-candidate name mentions correlates with the Republican vote margin in the subsequent election. This finding persists even when controlling for incumbency, district partisanship, media coverage of the race, time, and demographic variables such as the district's racial and gender composition.”
Theoretically one imagines that Abbott will spend a good portion of his campaign fortune on television and web abs, but his twittering has already bought him an entire week of self-inflicted negative media. There are appropriate times for politicians to tweet themselves, but what's the point of paying a bunch of high-powered consultants if you are going to render them useless in controlling the message?
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