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Polling Facebook to find the next GOP presidential candidate

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If the Iowa caucuses were today, Mitt Romney would win in a landslide.

That is if voting took place on Facebook instead of a gymnasium in Ames, Mason City or any other snow-swept Iowa town in January.

Currently the former Massachusetts governor has 1,149,782 Facebook fans, more than twice the number of his closest social media competitor. Texas Rep. Ron Paul checks in with 564,559.

Both candidates have more than anyone else in the 2012 Republican field. Unlike the other seven in the running, a list that includes long shot Gary Johnson, Romney and Paul are veterans of Republican presidential primaries, giving them both name recognition and possibly some leftover fans from 2008.

Just behind the Facebook front runners are Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain with 459,851 and 303,092 fans, respectively. Both candidates have seen major surges in support – Bachmann shortly before and after Iowa's Ames Straw Poll in August, and Cain in the month of October – and that would likely explain the strong showing on Facebook.

Cain’s quickly catching up, too. Within one hour on Wednesday night, Cain gained 324 new fans. During the same period, Bachmann gained only two.

The anomaly of the group, however, is Texas Gov. Rick Perry. While Perry made a major splash in the polls when he first entered the race in August, he doesn't have the Facebook fans to prove it. He comes in fifth in the Facebook primary with 168,797. Apparently, most people haven't seen this instructional video yet.

Behind Perry falls the rest of the 2012 Republican crowd: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich claims 156,922; former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson shocks all with 140,921 fans; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum comes in with 31,115; and former ambassador and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman brings up the rear with 21,199.

Of course, Facebook fans don't actually equal votes and certainly don't reflect actual poll numbers. While Romney may have more friends online, an average of recent polls on Real Clear Politics showed Cain edging out Romney by one-percentage point. Cain was polling at 25.6 and Romney at 24.3 on Wednesday night.

In fact, the only time Facebook and actual poll numbers correlate are at the tail end. Santorum is currently edging out Huntsman, but both still languish in single digits.

In the end though, all of the Republican candidates have a long ways to go, at least on Facebook, to catch up to the guy holding the office they all want. Pres. Barack Obama commands 23,733,646 fans.  

Illustration by DonkeyHotey