‘RT if you like Obama’: On Twitter, Obama wins hearts, but will that equal votes?

Many websites and publications are keeping score in the proxy presidential campaign being waged on Twitter. The Obama campaign account has 23 times as many followers as does the Mitt Romney campaign account, and @BarackObama tweets a dozen times for every one sent by @MittRomney. But no one is certain if these metrics have any relationship to electoral outcomes.

Elections may or may not imitate Twitter, but Twitter imitates life—with a marked liberal bent. Measures of sentiment on Twitter find users on the platform are reliably more positive on Obama than Romney compared with polls. When you drill into that data, however, you see a familiar pattern: The tweeting class likes Barack Obama as a person more than it likes him as a politician.

When Barack Obama turned 51 on Saturday, for example, Yahoo News' Twitter analysis engine picked up a tremendous surge in positive sentiment around the president. A tweet from the @BarackObama account wishing him a happy birthday and including a cute photo of the president as a child was retweeted 5,178 times. A message urging supporters to donate $10 posted later that same day was redistributed fewer than 300 times.

Overall, the data suggests people are much more likely to retweet messages with a human interest element than they are to reshare tweets with a fundraising link or other such useful tool. The top 25 most-retweeted items of the Obama campaign's 1,820 tweets since April 1 include tweets about Michael Phelps, Mars and innocuous advice to graduates. (The top honors go to @BarackObama's statement that "Same-sex couples should be able to get married," which was retweeted 61,722 times.)

Romney's most retweeted messages, by contrast, are almost exclusively criticisms of Obama and tributes to the military and other patriotic messages. His June 28 statement that "If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have to replace @BarackObama" was retweeted 4,923 times, a personal best since April 1. The difference in reshare volume is largely attributable to the fact that the Romney campaign puts far less stock in Twitter. Since April, it has tweeted 143 times.