More than one person has suggested that I start tweeting, but I'm afraid to. As my nearest and dearest have observed "Who would follow you on twitter?" It would be mortifying to be on twitter and have no followers.
Yet tweeting is like bird song. A bird who sings early, long, and well will typically be healthier, and a better mate, than a bird with a weak and feeble song. Bird song thus signals reproductive fitness. So why do birds with low quality songs still sing? Because a quiet bird is signalling loud and clear that their song isn't worth listening to. Unless one is the most tuneless bird in the forest, singing is always the optimal strategy.
Tweeting is not just a contest to see who can chirp the loudest and longest. Journalist @adriearsenault (1,964 followers) is sending out the latest news from Libya. WCI bloggers @stephenfgordon and @mikepmoffatt give immediate reactions to Canadian economic policy developments. Plus numbers aren't everything. For their ability to influence public policy, would you back @stephenfgordon's 658 followers, or @justinbieber's 8,109,122?
Still I couldn't resist the temptation to do some digging.
The number of twitter followers for possible Republican party presidential candidates as of 12 March 2011 were: @sarahpalinusa 444,000; @newtgringrich 1,311,236; @mittromney 29,629; @govmikehuckabee 135,274. Newt Gringrich has some serious history to overcome, but I was surprised by the size of his front-runner advantage.
The number of twitter followers for possible future Prime Ministers of Canada, again as of 12 March 2011, were: @M_Ignatieff 61,415; @pmharper 98,164; @jacklayton 57,824; @gillesduceppe 44,550; @elizabethmay 11,447.
There are limits to how much weight should be placed on these numbers. The average potential Conservative voter might be more or less likely to be on twitter than, say, the average potential Bloc Quebecois voter. It is better to compare candidates drawing from the same base. So, for example, @M_Ignatieff's numbers can be more usefully compared with @justinpjtrudeau's (53,493) or @dalton_mcguinty's (7,394) than with @jacklayton's. Also, these numbers do not control for the length of time that people have been tweeting and building their base. But @elizabethmay has some cause for concern, especially when her numbers are compared against Calgary Mayor @nenshi's 14,247.
What do you think: how closely do the twitter numbers match each candidate's odds of victory?
Thanks for the suggestions in the comments. Here's a graphic pulled from Republican nominee prediction markets on www.intrade.com as of March 13th, 2011:
Here's some twitter stats for the federal Canadian parties from www.politwitter.ca, again as of March 13, 2011.