Can Facebook be an accurate predictor of the behavior of voters? We'll find out soon.
Facebook has created a Midterms Elections dashboard that tracks not polling numbers but the engagement of pages – the number of likes and how many people are talking about a candidate -- run by candidates.
At the top of the dashboard's home page is a national map that tracks races for governor, U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, with each state shaded to show how it leans in terms of engagement. Click on a specific state and you'll see a similar breakdown by Congressional district.
The dashboard, which was launched today, is a measure of engagement only, and isn't intended to predict the outcome of the Nov. 4 elections, Facebook told Politico. But Tom Wolf probably hopes it does anyway; on Pennsylvania's page, the race between Mr. Wolf and Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett leads the way.
Mr. Wolf enjoys double-digit leads in most polls leading up to Election Day and his lead in Facebook engagement is about as commanding. Mr. Wolf's page has more than double the likes of Mr. Corbett's campaign page, and 14,600 people are talking about – commenting, liking, or sharing posts, but not, as we'd hoped, the number of selfies – Mr. Wolf while about 11,500 are talking about Mr. Corbett.
Two of our local Congressional districts – the 14th, held by Democrat Mike Doyle and the 18th, held by Republican Tim Murphy – don't have contested races; two others, though, will be decided on Election Day, and it's worth taking a look at what FB's engagement numbers say about those races:
Third District: U.S. Rep Mike Kelly, a Republican from Butler, shouldn't have a difficult time fending off a challenge from Democrat Dan LaVallee of Cranberry; the race is rated in Kelly's favor, and Facebook engagement tells the same story. Mr. Kelly's election page has 4,600 likes – an increase of 6.2 percent over last week – compared with Mr. LaVallee's 1,500. Facebook also says there are 1,300 talking about Mr. Kelly while just 300 are talking about Mr. LaVallee.
Twelfth District: U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, the incumbent Republican from Sewickley, also is favored to beat his Democratic challenger, Erin McClelland of Lower Burrell. But in this case, the two measures of engagement included on Facebook's Pennsylvania dashboard are split. Mr. Rothfus has a huge advantage in page likes – nearly 12,000 versus Ms. McClelland's 2,300 – but nearly 500 people are talking about Ms. McClelland's candidacy, versus the 100 talking about Mr. Rothfus.
We're going to check back with the dashboard about a week before Election Day, to see if the engagement numbers for the governor's seat and those of the two aforementioned Congressional seats have changed. And just for fun, we'll take a look again after the dust has settled to see what we can ascertain about Facebook engagement and voting.