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Facebook's log-in screen welcomes users to the social-networking site on Aug. 27, 2009. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Facebook's log-in screen welcomes users to the social-networking site on Aug. 27, 2009. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Crunching Numbers

Liberals trump Tories on Twitter and Facebook, but Harper rules Google roost Add to ...

Canadian politics are changing, 140 characters at a time.

Naheed Nenshi used the power of social media and the Internet to take him from fringe candidate to Mayor of Calgary last year, and Barack Obama used it to bring a new generation of voters to the U.S. ballot box in 2008. Handshaking, baby-kissing and television advertisements continue to be a part of politics, but the party that best uses social media in the next federal election could come out on top.

This will not be Canada's first election with social media. Twitter was just becoming popular in 2008 while Facebook reported having about 100 million users on the eve of the last campaign. But social media's presence in the next election will undoubtedly be beyond anything Canadians have seen before.

According to PoliTwitter, a website that tracks Canadian politicians' use of social media, the Liberals may have the inside edge on their Conservative rivals. While PoliTwitter reports that 56 Conservative MPs are on Twitter, the 50 Liberal MPs that use the site have almost 30,000 more followers. Based on the site's latest data, Liberal MPs are followed by 162,457 people, while 134,723 Twitter users follow Conservative MPs. The 22 New Democratic MPs on Twitter have 74,066 followers, while the Bloc's 15 Twitter-using MPs have 41,700.

On Facebook, Liberal MPs have 107,808 "fans," more than the combined totals of Conservative (50,963) and New Democratic (50,463) MPs. The Bloc, with 5,758 Facebook fans, lags well behind.

The Liberals are also more active on Twitter, with 14,770 tweets made by or directed to Liberal MPs and organizations in January. The NDP comes up second with 7,747 tweets, ahead of the Conservatives' 6,869.

But over the last two months, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have had more presence on the social networking site, with 8,323 mentions of the Prime Minister and 16,231 of his MPs by other users. That dwarfs the 3,961 mentions of Michael Ignatieff and the 11,778 mentions of his MPs.

Along with the use of social media, web presence is vital in a campaign. A Google search conducted on Jan. 27, 2011 indicates that Mr. Harper, not surprisingly as he is the Prime Minister, is the most talked about, blogged about, and written about political leader in the country. Over the last month, his name pops up on about 1,780,000 sites on the Internet, far more than the 475,000 sites featuring Mr. Ignatieff or the 184,000 sites mentioning Jack Layton.

On blogs, Mr. Harper is well ahead of the other leaders, having been mentioned 19,500 times in the last month. That outpaces the combined totals of the four other leaders: 3,810 mentions of Mr. Ignatieff, 1,900 of Mr. Layton, 1,160 of Gilles Duceppe, and 688 of Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

The picture is somewhat different on French-language blogs. While Mr. Harper is still ahead of the others with 3,660 mentions over the last month, Mr. Duceppe comes in second with 621, more than double the 300 mentions of Mr. Ignatieff. Mr. Layton comes up 88 times, while Ms. May comes up once.

A search of news results through Google also shows that Mr. Harper gets the most electronic ink. He came up 5,180 times in the last month, compared to 1,450 for the Liberal Leader. Mr. Layton was in the news 649 times, Mr. Duceppe 327 times, and Ms. May 86 times. In French-language news, Harper was featured 525 times over the last month. Mr. Duceppe was the second-most mentioned political leader in French at 119, but Mr. Ignatieff was not far behind with 115 mentions.

As you type a search query into Google, the website helpfully tries to finish typing your request for you, based on the most popular searches. When typing Elizabeth May or Jack Layton, Google suggests that you might be looking for their biography. For Gilles Duceppe, a trip to Washington seems to have piqued people's curiosity, while many appear to be searching the name Michael Ignatieff for "news."

Not so for the Prime Minister. Internet users are apparently bored by the rigours of leading one of the largest economies in the world. According to Google, typing "Stephen Harper" into the search field reveals that most people just want to hear the Prime Minister sing.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com. Follow him on Twitter at 308dotcom.

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