Ron Paul for President 2.0?

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Charlie Neibergall / AP

Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul.

Kissing babies, stumping on the campaign tour and meeting with the local supporters all seems so... well 1.0. Texas Congressman and libertarian Dr. Ron Paul represents the new 2.0 candidate, with his success recruiting supporters through new social media channels. But Congressman Paul's online supporters may run far afield from the typical campaign supporter. With over 114,000 views, the MSNBC interview with Michelle Shinghal, representing Strippers for Ron Paul, showcased one of the many new and curious groups campaigning online for the Republican hopeful. With some candidates in the 2008 Presidential election embracing every facet of Web 2.0 to get their message out, from YouTube videos to MySpace profiles, your next president may be no further than a friend-add on Facebook.

There is a wide gap between what the polls tell us about campaign frontrunners and the popularity of those same candidates on the Web. The latest numbers from the Gallup Republican Poll put Rudy Giuliani on top, with 32% of support from Republican field, followed by recent announcee Fred Thompson, with 19%. Ron Paul, who has over 61,000 friends on MySpace, is in sixth place with only 3%.

Some political watchers, including poll respondents, are already considering Paul an also-ran. But Internet data paints a different picture for the candidate. According to Hitwise, for the four weeks ending Sept. 8, 2007, the most searched on candidate was "Ron Paul" with 0.54% of searches driving traffic to the politics category. "Fred Thompson" follows closely behind with 0.50%, "Joe Biden" with 0.25%, "Barack Obama" with 0.23% and "Hillary Clinton" also with 0.23%.

We know from the 2004 presidential election that an Internet search on a candidate or a visit to their official website does not translate to a vote. In fact, we know that the closer we get to an election, more critics — in addition to supporters — will visit a candidate's page, presumably in an attempt to get information on the opposition's platform.

The Web does reveal how involved U.S. Internet users are with a candidate's Web 2.0 presence, and again Ron Paul comes out on top. If we look at the traffic flowing from websites like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, the candidate with the most visits from those sites is Ron Paul, followed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But if Ron Paul tops all of the Web metrics for popularity, like searches and traffic from social networks, then how can he be so far down in the Gallup Poll?

The answer may be in the difference between the people who answer a pollster's phone call and the people who don't. Younger adults are abandoning their landline phones for cell phones, so including this demographic in phone-based polls seems unlikely. And visitors to Ron Paul's official website are likely to be male (74%) and between 25 and 34 years old (25%). On the other hand, a significant portion of visitors to the websites of both the Republican and Democratic frontrunners are 55 or older. Of those two demographics, which is most likely to participate in a phone poll on their favorite candidate?

Despite his success on the Web, the gap between Paul's poll standing and online popularity highlights a bigger problem for the doctor from Texas. Can his wired supporters take a break from shout-outs, sending virtual drinks and writing on virtual walls to shut down their computers and go out and vote?

Bill Tancer is general manager of global research at Hitwise.