How our favorite sites are sculpting the new face of American politics.

These aren’t your grandfather’s elections anymore. In the past, the quintessential scenes of American democracy took place in the barber shops, at the water cooler, or in the—what’s that word?—parlor. While politicians still recognize the importance of engaging with their constituents face-to-face, their presence in the realm of social media is now just as vital to winning over the hearts and minds of the populace, if not more so.

These days, every public—or private—moment in a politician’s career is immediately accessible through the web. As Anthony Weiner can attest, the power and reach of the Internet should never be underestimated. A single misstep could spell a spectacular downfall, just as a single moment of brilliance can skyrocket a politician’s career like no other present form of media can.

Today, with so many social media outlets at the fingertips of every voter, there are just as many voices out there posing questions, asserting opinions, posting videos. With all of these modes of virtual communication, it’s easy for each of us to become private political experts in our own right, and our platforms are YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Actual politicians have adapted too, each one tapping into the social media machine with varying levels of success. The 2011-2012 Republican primary elections are a perfect example of just how fickle the Internet can be to the careless politician.

Rick Perry’s Social Media Presence is Anything but Strong

On December 7, Rick Perry’s campaign team posted a video onto his campaign’s Facebook page, entitled Strong. In this short film, Rick Perry made a fairly strong comment about his opposing the military service of openly gay soldiers.

On Facebook alone, Strong received over 8,000 views and over 4,200 comments, most of them negative.  On YouTube, Strong has been viewed 7,790,730 times and collected over 740,000 dislikes and only 25,000 likes. This film has been ranked as one of the most hated YouTube videos in history and has proven to be a detriment to Rick Perry’s candidacy.

In another video released via YouTube, Perry apologized for his infamous flop at the CNBC Michigan debate, attempting, with dubious success, to recapture the massive amount of ground he had lost.

There’s no denying that Rick Perry has done his best to be media savvy. His Facebook profile is littered with short films ranging from campaign messages to behind-the-scenes footage of the campaign trail, but the unfortunate reality is that negative press overshadows the positive and any onlooker would consider Perry a casualty of the social media front.

Michele Bachmann’s Candid YouTube Moment

At a book signing in South Carolina, Michele Bachmann was approached by a boy and his mother. The boy, identified as Elijah, was filmed, after some coaxing, whispering in Bachmann’s ear, “Miss Bachmann, my mommy’s gay but she doesn’t need any fixing.”

This video was posted on YouTube on December 4 and quickly went viral. The video, which documents the awkward encounter and Bachmann’s somewhat stunned expression, has received close to 3,820,000 views with 8,995 likes and 3,381 dislikes.

Rick Santorum’s Google Difficulties

Rick Santorum launched toward the front end of the polls after the Iowa Caucus and he is quickly gaining a lot of attention online. His website received so much traffic on January 4 that it finally crashed due to the load. In short, the future of Santorum’s campaign is looking very bright except for one little smear on Google’s Search Engine Results Page.

When you look up Rick Santorum by name, you’ll find directly under the link to Santorum’s official website, another link to a very different site that equates Santorum’s last name with a vulgar term. This website was created in 2003 by an opponent of Santorum and has since received a very large amount of traffic.

Santorum’s campaign team approached Google in attempts to give the two sites some space on the search results. Google declined, explaining that doing so would violate its policies. The search algorithms are determined by traffic and shouldn’t be tampered with. The problem still persists, but luckily for Santorum, his website is still at the top of the search results.

Ron Paul’s Facebook Approval Ratings

Ron Paul has become the second most popular candidate on Facebook.  With 724,945 fans, Paul comes in second behind Mitt Romney, who has 1,313,386 fans. Facebook may not be the most accurate source for approval ratings among the American voting base, but it’s incredibly interesting to see how close it actually is.

We have to remember that Facebook can be accessed by anyone around the world and that users can “like” as many people as they want. At the ballot, however, a voter is allowed one vote. But when you compare the data, Paul began gaining momentum on Facebook around the same time he started becoming more and more popular in the Iowa Caucuses. Paul also came in second during the New Hampshire primaries and the distance between Romney and Paul on Facebook is comparable to where they stood in the primary results.

Twitter Rolls the Bones for Romney

Mitt Romney’s social media presence has held strong throughout his campaign, beginning with the YouTube video posting in which his announced his presidential candidacy. He’s also been a big player on Twitter, frequently posting pictures and engaging with this 260,000 plus followers.

Romney is performing well according to his Facebook ratings as well. After the June New Hampshire GOP debates, Romney sky-rocketed ahead of the competition, with over 19,658 likes, double the amount of runner-up Michele Bachmann’s 9,232 likes.

During the New Hampshire elections, Twitter predicted that Romney would take the election due to the sheer volume of his followers. Sure enough, Twitter was right and Romney took the election with 37% of the vote. In previous elections, the amount of Twitter traffic a politician can generate has been a pretty good indicator of how that politician will perform in the polls. Whoever has had the highest amount of Twitter followers tends to perform the best.

The Long-Term Relationship of Social Media and Politics

In the recent Republican primaries as in elections to come, social media is and will be an integral part of American politics. The same media that you use to watch hours of cat videos, spew your life story, or give minute-by-minute updates on your day-to-day life is now one of the most influential platforms a politician must conquer if he or she wants to win over the electorate.

Social media provides politicians a way to better communicate with their voter base as individuals as well as grants the people a louder voice when it comes to sharing our opinions on the subjects that matter most.