You may have thought this year's presidential election was brutal on the airwaves and the stump, but the battle has also been raging nonstop on Twitter. If you heard an attack anywhere, it was most likely tweeted several times as well. This provides an incredible opportunity to see which messages resonate or fall flat.
We identified 471 tweets by both Obama and Romney attacking the other and grouped them by issue, then found which issues received the most retweets overall. Retweets act as a real-time, national focus group. Each retweet reflects a supporter deciding "I want to spread this." More retweets indicate an issue resonates effectively.
Obama's most effective attacks have focused on women's health, Romney's tax returns,and education. Romney's messaging resonated most strongly when he attacked Obama for the Affordable Care Act or Medicare, a failure to display leadership and hostility to small business. The shock came when we studied the frequency of each of these issues in campaign tweets. The most effective issues were among the least used.
RT if you agree: We can't let Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan take us back to the 1950s on women's health. twitter.com/BarackObama/st...
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 20, 2012
Claims that Romney would take us backwards on women's health and defund Planned Parenthood account for under 2% of attacks by Obama, yet average over 2500 retweets each. The tweet above was the most shared within this group, coming the day after Todd Akin's now infamous remarks on abortion. With concerns arising from the Republican National Convention's strict anti-abortion plank, this week provided an opportunity to renew emphasis on women's health issues. Obama's campaign has been quicker to capitalize on Romney's tax returns, accounting for 9% of attacks, while education comes in at 5% of attacks. Obama has spent the most time hitting Romney on Bain Capital, tax policy and Mitt's record in Massachusetts.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) June 28, 2012
Romney's top attack to date fell just shy of 5000 retweets, coming on the day the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. Conservatives crave a stronger line against "Obamacare," yet Romney has obliged them only twice since. The selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate opened a new assault on Medicare, running combined attacks on these two issues to 5% of Romney's total. Claims that Obama fails to display leadership and is hostile to small business each account for another 3% of attacks. Romney has spent the most time hitting Obama on jobs, foreign policy, and overall economic activity.
Everyone expected this election to be a referendum on Obama and the economy. A year ago it would be hard to find anything else in Romney's attack tweets. Over the course of the campaign both sides have touched upon what were once considered secondary issues, with incredible impact. It may turn out voters have already taken the economy into account, and are now interested in hearing about "secondary" issues. With the razor-thin margin expected in November, capitalizing on the right areas outside the economy could make all the difference.
Some might expect less emphasized issues to do better simply due to a novelty effect, while attacks used often should lose their appeal. The data does not support this theory. There are no diminishing returns within a category of attacks over time; if anything some subjects such as Bain Capital and jobs became more potent as interest in the election has heated up and messaging has been refined.
Check out the infographic below to see which issues have been used most frequently and effectively.