Who's Winning the GOP Race on Twitter

The candidates' follower counts don't quite match what you'd expect

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Yesterday we learned that former House Speaker and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is cheating. No, not with a woman; we already know all about how Gingrich's love for America drove him to cheat on his first and second wives. Nope, yesterday Gawker broke the story that Gingrich is cheating in a much more heinous way: on Twitter. An ex-staffer claims that Gingrich's campaign hired an outside agency to create dummy Twitter accounts to follow @newtgingrich and boost his follower account to 1.32 million, which is about twice as high as maybe presidential candidate Sarah Palin's Twitter and about 20 times higher than GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney's.

Gingrich predictably denied the charge, but that's not what we're interested in right now. We want to know: Who is winning the race for the Republican nomination on Twitter? What can we learn about the GOP race by how many Twitter followers each candidate has gained?

Graphed below are the number of followers for the official Twitter handles of each declared candidate (sans faker Gingrich and potential candidates like Palin and Texas Gov. Rick Perry) over the past six month. Week-to-week data was collected from Twitter Counter.

The results confirm one thing Gallup could have told us: Romney is the clear frontrunner in the GOP field and has been for some time. But beyond Romney, the numbers don't quite match our expectations. Herman Cain in particular seems to have an outsized Twitter following, gaining interest through the primary debates. Jon Huntsman's and Ron Paul's Twitter accounts are relatively new and thus short on followers. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's high-than-expected Twitter count could be explained by the fact that he has maintained his account while serving in public office. (Same could be said of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who would place third in the graph if he declared his candidacy, though he is considered to be a much stronger candidate than Pawlenty.)

In short, the Twitter follower count is a better measure of how well a candidate's account is managed (not to mention how long ago it was opened) than how likely it is that candidate will win the GOP nomination. Which makes Gingrich look even more foolish when he says things like, "I have six times as many Twitter followers as all the other candidates combined, but it didn't count because if it counted I'd still be a candidate; since I can't be a candidate that can't count."

The media doesn't regard Gingrich as a viable candidate because he is polling low and also because it isn't 1995 anymore. Compare him to Palin: Her roughly 600,000 by comparison were earned through her natural charisma and social media savvy, as well as an unusually high profile in the last election. Gingrich simply doesn't seem appealing enough to be beating everyone else.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.