The Power of the Reddit Vote

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Barack Obama did a Reddit Ask Me Anything back in August not just as a gimmick to prove he was "with it," but because that's where his voter base was, an anonymous "official" from Obama's analytics team told Time's Michael Scherer. With 34 million unique visitors visiting the site each month, it makes sense that appealing to the people of that Internet world would be a good way to campaign. But, how powerful is that voter base? And is a Reddit AMA the way to win them over? 

While Barack Obama did a Reddit AMA and won the election, that doesn't really prove any connection between the two things. In fact, following his question and answer period, people responded that he hadn't given any real answers to real questions. The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal wrote, "The Reddit AMA is a terrible format for extracting information from a politician," which angered some Reddit people. But as a glorified campaign stop, maybe Obama's AMA worked?

Many of Reddit's users fall in the "young people" category, which Obama dominated, getting 67 percent of the 18- to 29-year-old vote. These Quantcast numbers don't break down the age groups exactly like that, but more than 30 percent of Reddit's users fall into the 18-34 category. Eliminating those under 18 and therefore ineligible to vote, nearly half of Reddit's voting age users are in that key "young" Obama demographic: 

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Though many of Reddit's users are male, a demographic Romney won, Obama also attracted people who attained at least their college degrees, another group of people who regularly use "the front page of the Internet":

Just because the two demographics (Reddit and Obama) align, however, doesn't mean the Reddit AMA did it. Obama wasn't the only presidential candidate who did one—Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian ticket Gary Johnson also did AMAs—but, obviously, neither of them won. Then again, neither of them had very high chances of winning to start. A handful of congressional candidates, however, also did Reddit AMA's. How did they fare? Politico's Alex Byers says not that well.

The following congressional candidates did AMAs, and while the incumbents won, the challengers did not. 

A handful of people who did AMAs didn't make it through the primaries, either. Now a lot of these elections weren't even close enough for a Reddit AMA to matter. But the close ones, like Graves who narrowly lost to Bachmann, didn't get enough of a Reddit boost to win.

As Byers wrote last month, the power of a Reddit campaign stop depends on the candidate and how they use it. "Harnessing an emerging technology or platform is now standard campaign practice. But picking one that isn’t suited to a particular type of campaign won’t give the contender a boost," he wrote. "I don’t think this is a starter to help you raise your profile to national; I think you have to already have interest to have this be successful," Scott Goodstein, a former Obama campaign digital strategist told him. It's still not clear that Obama's Reddit campaigning motivated any crucial voters. But for him, we'll say this: It didn't hurt. 

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