At tonight's GOP debate, presidential hopefuls are expected to criticize Mitt Romney's Massachusetts healthcare reform, but a recent Facebook ad study shows the issue may not be as damaging as assumed. According to Washington D.C.-based SocialCode, ads pairing Romney with the healthcare issue garnered twice the rate of "likes" as ads featuring Tim Pawlenty and healthcare.
The full service Facebook marketing agency found that 1.85 million ad impressions on the social network featuring Romney and the "turn back Obamacare" healthcare message collected 126 likes, while 1.5 million impressions of ads with Pawlenty and the same message grabbed 51 likes.
Pawlenty attacked Romney yesterday during a Fox News appearance, suggesting President Obama's healthcare reform law - which conservatives would like to see overturned - was patterned after the law Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts.
SocialCode believes its recent test measuring political ads on Facebook could help inform how GOP candidates advertise there this election season.
The agency targeted ads featuring Republican presidential candidates and possible candidates to people of voting age in Iowa and New Hampshire, measuring how many likes the ads got. Ads coupled images of the political figures with various issue-based copy focused on healthcare, the economy, national security, values, and a more general message opposing Obama. The company works with corporate brands and advocacy clients, and is not currently working on any 2012 presidential campaigns.
Another key finding: Palin ads earned more likes than other candidates, no matter what issue she was connected to. Also, values and national security related issues sparked a lower percentage of likes in both early caucus and primary states, while the anti-Obama message topped them all in both states.
Although ads combining Palin and a "restore American values" message outperformed ads featuring the same message with the other figures by 2.4 percent, the former Alaska governor underperformed by 16.5 percent when paired with a message about the economy, when compared to the others.
Featured in the ads were Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, and undeclared wildcards John Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin. In addition, SocialCode included an elephant in the mix, representing the Republican Party.
The idea was to pair each candidate or potential candidate with each of the issues that will be top-of-mind with voters this cycle. Ads were targeted to all people on Facebook of voting age residing in Iowa and New Hampshire - not just to people who have self-declared themselves to be conservatives, Republicans or tea partiers.
"This test is to show what a powerful platform Facebook can be for research," said Laura O'Shaughnessy, SocialCode general manager. O'Shaughnessy noted that findings regarding which issue-candidate combinations resonated most with particular audience segments could help GOP campaigns craft messages across media.
"One thing that was specifically interesting to us is that more than 69 percent of Iowa and 69 percent of New Hampshire [residents] are on Facebook," said O'Shaughnessy. The agency used the voting age populations in each state to determine the finding.
The "stronger economy" message appeared to resonate more with younger people. That message performed more than 20 percent better among 25- to 29-year-olds who saw ads than other age groups. Meanwhile, the message underperformed by 4 percent among those 60 and older.
Overall, 26 percent of the likes associated with all the ads came from an anti-Obama message which read, "Vote in 2012 for change. No more Obama. Click 'LIKE' to show your support!" It did slightly better among New Hampshirites - 27 percent of New Hampshire likes compared to 24 percent of Iowa likes. Men liked the anti-Obama message two times as often as women, according to SocialCode.
The "turn back Obamacare" healthcare message performed the next best; 21 percent of the likes came from that message. Around 18 percent of overall likes were associated with the economy-theme, and 17 percent of likes with the values message or national security message.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.