The five words and phrases most closely associated with Sarah Palin in online postings during the past three weeks were anti-Semitic, Arizona shooting, blood libel, Christian, and Congress.
These terms were associated with Palin on the Internet in the period since Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D.-Ariz.) was shot in Tuscon, Arizona .
According to a study conducted by Zeta Interactive for HUMAN EVENTS, the online content about Palin during the period of Jan. 10-27 was 75% negative.
This is perhaps why, according to reports from the Reno-Gazette Journal, Palin changed what was one of her signature lines — “don’t retreat, reload” — when she spoke in Nevada this weekend to the Club Safari International Hunter’s Convention.
Palin, according to reports, told the audience to “don’t retreat, stand tall,” instead of to “reload,” which she had said on many previous occassions to galvanize her fervent base of supporters.
On Twitter last evening though, Rebecca Mansour, of SarahPac, tweeted that “yesterday in Reno, Gov. Palin did say her trademark line ‘don’t retreat, reload’ at the confernce.
“Palin’s comments became a lightning rod for those who oppose her to take her to task,” said Zeta’s CEO Al DiGuido.
On the morning before President Barack Obama addressed a memorial service in Tucson, Arizona, for the victims, Palin released a video in which she denounced those who jumped to conclusions in the wake of the shootings.
“Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible,” Palin said in the video.
These comments, especially her “blood libel” reference, created a firestorm. Palin’s supporters claimed she had no choice but to defend herself. Her critics accused her of not taking the high road, putting the spotlight on herself, and implied that the release of her video only made Obama look more presidential later on that evening.
Zeta uses a proprietary methodology that determines the amount of “buzz” online for particular candidates. The technology scrapes content from social media monitoring congregation sites including blogs, bulletin boards, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Zeta reports show the online conversation volume and tone, which is known as “sentiment volume.” The buzz score is a combination of the sentiment volume and key words and phrases associated with a candidate.
Many in the online community vociferously came to the defense of Palin and what they thought was the mainstream media’s attempt to destroy her. But, according to the Zeta study, Palin’s critics became more vociferous online during the post-Giffords shooting weeks. The drastic rise in Palin critics accounts for her 75% negative approval rating.
At the end of 2010, according to Zeta, a remarkable 80% of the posts and tone online about Palin were positive.
“There is little doubt that Palin’s comments around the Arizona tragedy served as an invitation to those who had negative feelings about the Tea Party to get mobilized and be vocal [online],” said DiGuido.
In the wake of the Arizona shooting, DiGuido thinks that Palin will have to take time to rebuild part of her online brand that got negatively impacted.
The Zeta study also looked at the online buzz during the past three weeks for the top potential Republican presidential candidates for 2012. After Palin, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) had the highest volume of Internet buzz. Paul had exactly the same 75% negativity rating as Palin.
Paul is closely associated with the Tea Party, which many in the mainstream media tried to falsely implicate in the Arizona shootings. So, according to DiGuido, Paul’s negativity rating apparently stems from a general implication online that the Tea Party and its leaders were to blame for Arizona .
The Zeta study of the past three weeks gives insight into the larger political stage.
First, the mainstream media’s initial implications and insinuations that the Tea Party was to blame for the Arizona shooting had a serious impact on public opinion. The online data seems consistent in light of recent studies revealing that lliberal-leaning TV networks MSNBC and CNN mentioned “Palin” more than “Jared Loughner” in the weeks after the Arizona shootings.
Second, and perhaps more relevant for the GOP presidential primary, the Zeta study reveals how closely Palin and Paul are associated with the Tea Party. If the Tea Party plays a significant role in the 2012 nominating process, it seems that candidates close to Palin and Paul will have the advantage of these vocal and enthusiastic supporters.
Also, the Tea Party forces are likely to assert themselves even more than they have before within the GOP apparatus in the years ahead. Last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R.-Minn.) gave a separate “Tea Party” response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. Bachmann defied party leaders in giving the speech, and was well-received by Tea Party activists online.
DiGuido notes that 10 years ago, those who posted on the Internet were a narrow segment of the overall consumer and voting public. But now, social media sites are a “huge factor” in determining the opinions of the general public. There are more than 200 million individuals blogging and sharing content through various platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
“There are too many examples of how Internet buzz has rewarded great campaigns of all types with dramatic success in the near term,” said DiGuido. “Likewise, the landscape is littered with brands, messages and products which have been clobbered by Internet buzz and doomed the product.”
In today’s online landscape, a political candidate or elected official has to face a real-time, viral focus group.
The GOP presidential nominating process has not yet determined the leading candidates for 2012. Talk radio host and businessman Herman Cain is the only Republican to formally announce that he has formed an exploratory committee.
DiGuido sees this current period, where there is a lull, for lower, lesser-known candidates to start aggressively building up their profiles, especially online.
“The time to start building this base is now,” said DiGuido. “The social media community wants to understand clearly what a candidate stands for and why their positions on the issues are different than others. The candidate needs to have a strong group of blog posters who will … monitor the tone and volume of posts being made on the landscape.”
“There needs to be a recruitment of passionate evangelists who can positively direct the conversations within each of these areas,” added DiGuido. “President Obama won the election in large part due to his ability to mobilize the Internet generation from many different aspects, which included donors and voters.”
One last interesting tidbit from this study may serve as a preview of a potential clash in the 2012 GOP primary.
According to the Zeta story, the top word or phrase associated with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels during this period was former Minnesota Gov. “Tim Pawlenty.” If those two potential candidates choose to throw their respective hats into the 2012 ring, they, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, may end up directly competing for the same set of voters.
In the weeks ahead, HUMAN EVENTS will launch what will start off as a weekly series of news, analysis and opinion on everything related to the 2012 GOP presidential nominating contest.