Foursquare and 2010 Election Data

A couple of online projects are trying Foursquare to test how the location-based social platform can be utilized for election coverage.
by | October 28, 2010

In 2008, social media savvy voters went to Twitter to announce where and how they voted, and to read other voters' reactions. In 2010, the social media platform to watch this election day may be Foursquare. The location-based platform wasn't established until last year, so this year's elections provide the first opportunities to experiment with how it can be used for political purposes.

One Foursquare experiment comes way of Toronto. On Oct. 25, Torontonians voted for their new municipal leaders, including mayor. Local newspaper National Post, which uses Foursquare to connect its stories to places around the city, set up a Foursquare location for voters (Toronto Election 2010) and encouraged them to 'check-in' and share who they voted for and why. Staffers hoped to see how feasible it was to use Foursquare as an alternative or extension of traditional exit polling, and if readers would participate. On election day, 325 people checked in at 'Toronto Election 2010' and 18 explained who they voted for and why.

Did the National Post's Foursquare exit poll predict the election? Well, no. Users who shared who they voted for tended to vote for George Smitherman, who lost the election to Rob Ford.

"It's tempting to speculate that people with liberal views (ie. Smitherman supporters) are more likely to be early adopters on emerging platforms such as Foursquare than their conservative, Ford-supporting counterparts," says National Post Senior Producer Chris Boutet in an e-mail. "But I think we can mostly chalk this up to the sample size just being too small to provide an accurate reflection on how the vote would go."  The Foursquare sample is quite small when you consider that  52.6 percent of the city's 1.5 million residents came out to vote.

Boutet also noticed a possibility that Foursquare users were hesitant to share who they voted for, so during election day he set up an online poll that he promoted off the Foursquare event. That poll received over 2,000 votes and was more accurate in predicting the election.

Would Boutet try another election-related project on Foursquare again? He says the paper "would definitely" do something similar for future elections, but would tweak the execution of it to maybe include multiple polling locations to see if that would increase visibility and the number of check-ins.

Like Torontonians, Americans could also check in at the polls when they go to vote Nov. 2. Foursquare partnered up with a number of election-focused organizations to bring "I Voted," a data visualization project that will use the number of check-ins at over 100,000 polling places to show how big voter turnout is at different locations. "With over four million users, Foursquare is now at the scale where check-ins communicate a larger trend and we're excited to make this data more accessible to the public," says Foursquare's Eric Friedman in a statement. In addition, the project will bring the "I Voted" sticker into the digital age. Users can earn an election 2010 badge if they check in at a polling location, which will be posted on the user's Foursquare profile.

What will the Foursquare turnout be on Nov. 2? Who knows. But perhaps some of the election-related projects on Foursquare in 2010 could be yield a new way of tracking returns in upcoming mayoral races (Feb. 22 in Chicago, anyone?), 2012, and beyond.

Tina Trenkner
Tina Trenkner  |  Deputy Editor, GOVERNING.com
ttrenkner@governing.com  |  @tinatrenkner

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