In Google+, a political Bizarro World

On Google's social network, the horse race gets just plain weird.


Justin Franz


Published Feb 15, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 9:23 pm CDT

On Google+, Mitt Romney isn’t the man he is on Facebook, there is no such thing as a primary “bump” for Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul, well, we’re guessing he opted out of Google’s latest privacy-policy update.

Ron, it’s okay, buddy. I haven’t used Google+ since December either.

Google loves to talk up big numbers when it comes to its Google+ social network. But if you were looking for proof that the Facebook alternative isn’t catching on with the mainstream American public, consider this: No politician you’ve heard of is winning the Google+ primary.

While not many people turn to Facebook and Twitter for political news, those sites have become mostly reliable gauges of the popularity of a candidate. But their presence on Google+ has been mostly overlooked in the social horse race.

It was only recently that politicians have been able to officially set up pages on Google+. And not all have stuck with it.

Texas Rep. Paul abandoned his Google+ property soon after creating it. Paul created his account in late September, but the campaign was only active on it for two months; the last post was a YouTube link on Dec. 5. Yet even with that inactivity, Paul is leading the pack of likely candidates and more than 190,000 people have added Paul to their circles—the Google equivalent of following someone on Twitter or liking them on Facebook.

Straining to catch up with Paul are Romney and Newt Gingrich. While on Facebook, Romney’s likes have soared past 1 million, blowing every other GOP candidate out of the water, his Google+ performance isn’t as spectacular. As of Monday night, he only had only been added to 167,369 circles. Just below Romney, Gingrich had been added to 168,388, less than half the number of likes he has on Facebook.

At the bottom of the pack is Santorum. Even though he has been soaring in the polls and on social media, he hasn’t done much of anything on Google+. As of Monday he had been added to a measly 1,713 circles.

But who are the real winners of the Google+ Primary? Meet Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer, long-shot candidates who have struggled for attention everywhere—everywhere but Google+, it seems.

Leading the pack is former New Mexico Gov. Johnson, who is now running as a Libertarian, with a presence in more than 394,000 circles, more than twice the number of likes he has on Facebook. Roemer, who is still chasing the Republican nomination, is in more than 160,000 circles—right up there with Gingrich and Romney.

How to explain the discrepancy? One is that the more professionally run campaigns are focusing on reaching voters on Facebook and Twitter, where the return on investment is better understood. The other is that Google+’s demographics remain heavily skewed—male, geeky early adopters—and thus it’s just not a good proxy for the electorate as a whole.

Either that, or Google+ is just a political Bizarro World.

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*First Published: Feb 15, 2012, 8:00 am CST