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Facebook Folly: Why the social network can’t really forecast elections

Facebook Worker Smiles.jpg

Feb. 8, 2012: A Facebook worker smiles inside Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Also:

-- Indicted ex-governor’s wife

-- Hannity vs. Cuomo

-- Trump, again?

Facebook Folly: Why the social network can’t really forecast elections

Everyone in politics wants a magic formula.

I know: What if Facebook could predict elections?

In fact, why even have voters go to the polls? Here’s a nifty constitutional amendment: The candidate with the most “likes” wins!

I have no doubt that Facebook, given its huge traffic, is useful at divining trends. Hey, if you have a lot of friends and followers, you’re probably popular.

But when it comes to Facebook as some kind of electoral crystal ball, well, it’s complicated. Put me down as skeptical.

Three researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst insist that Mark Zuckerberg's creation can forecast the future. They say in Politico that by combining the degree of fan "engagement” with such factors as past political history, they successfully called eight out of nine Senate races in 2012.

This is how they explain it:

“First, the growth of a candidate’s fan base—or the number of people who ‘like’ a candidate’s fan page—over time. Second, the growth or contraction of the number of people Facebook reports are 'engaged' with the campaign, meaning those who comment, like or share posts about the candidate with their Facebook friends. And third, the campaign’s actual success in mobilizing people at a particular time— a simple equation of those engaged divided by the fan base.” 

One reason I’m not buying into this is that, even with 128 million active users in the United States, not everyone is on Facebook and not all subscribers spend much time there. And those who are posting and sharing are probably younger than the overall voting demographic.

Besides, if you’re running for Senate in, say, Oklahoma, it doesn’t matter much if you’ve got passionate followers in New York and California (unless they want to open their wallets).

And what if more Democrats than Republicans in a House district are on Facebook? Wouldn’t that skew the “engagement” measure?

It’s fun to play with the idea of an all-knowing, all-seeing Facebook. But I hear all the kids are moving on to Instagram and Snapchat.

For what it’s worth, the UMass folks see Republicans picking up one seat among the 2014 Senate contests in North Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky and Alaska.

Indicted ex-governor’s wife

In the federal charges against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife for accepting gifts and loans from a businessman seeking state assistance, Twitter quickly focused on this email from Maureen McDonnell to the business guy in question:

“I need to talk to you about Inaugural clothing budget. I need answers and Bob is screaming about the thousands I’m charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, have an unconscionable amount of credit card debt already, and this Inaugural is killing us!!”

Life in public service is rough.

Hannity vs. Cuomo

Andrew Cuomo made a big political blunder the other day—and Sean Hannity says he may leave New York as a result.

In a radio interview, the New York governor said in talking about the state GOP: “Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives, who are right to life, pro assault weapon, anti-gay, is that who they are? Because if that is who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York. Because that is not who New Yorkers are.”

No place in the state?

Hannity responded on his radio show, saying, “Governor Cuomo, I’m going to leave and I’m taking all of my money with me — every single solitary penny.”

He added: “I don’t want to pay their 10-percent state tax anymore. I live in the second-highest property taxed county in the entire country in Nassau County. I can’t wait to sell my house to somebody that wants it. I can’t wait to pay no state income tax down in Florida or Texas. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m leaning Florida because I like the water and I like to fish.”

As for Cuomo, his office issued a statement saying his words had been misconstrued: “The governor was making the observation that an extreme right candidate cannot win statewide because this is a politically moderate state.”

Trump, again?

Remember when The Donald ran for president in 2012, only to bail when it was time to renew “Celebrity Apprentice”?

Well, guess who’s making noises about 2016?

Trump told Reuters before an event in New Hampshire: "It is something I would certainly look at. You know why? I'm unhappy with the way things are going in America.”

Not holding my breath.

By the way, this is a shift for Trump, who has lately been musing about running for governor. Except that a Siena Research poll shows Andrew Cuomo trouncing him, 70 to 22 percent.

Hey, I hope he runs for something. It’s hard to beat that kind of entertainment value. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.