WASHINGTON -- Four years ago, then-Sen. Barack Obama got a head start on Arizona Sen. John McCain when it came to reaching voters online, on their mobile phones and on social media. Young voters, the group most likely to tune in digitally to the presidential campaign, broke overwhelmingly for Obama, giving him the biggest margin of victory among that age group ever recorded.
This year, Obama again holds an advantage over his Republican opponent on the digital front, says a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. The group's Project for Excellence in Journalism analyzed both campaigns' efforts between June 4-17 and found Obama far outpacing Mitt Romney.
Obama's team posted almost four times as much content during the period, the report said, and maintained an active presence on almost twice as many platforms. On Twitter, Romney's campaign tweeted about once a day, while Obama's campaign averaged 29 daily tweets. Obama also posted about twice as many YouTube videos and blog entries.
Not content to stick just with Twitter and Facebook, Obama's campaign kept public accounts on Flickr, Google+, Instagram and other social media platforms -- nine in all. Romney was active on just five, although his campaign more recently added two more.
"I don't believe that posting more is better," Zac Moffatt, Romney's digital director, said in an interview. "Where I really look at it from an engagement standpoint is a site like Facebook where people are really having a back-and-forth."
Moffatt pointed out that while Obama has more than six times as many "likes" on Facebook -- almost 28 million in total -- Romney has more Facebook users who are "talking about this" -- a metric that measures how many people are actively interacting with his posts, such as by sharing or commenting on them.
Romney's campaign also noted that it uses a separate Twitter handle for rapid response to campaign happenings than for direct communication from the candidate.
"We treat Mitt Romney's Twitter handle as Mitt Romney," said Moffatt. "He's a part of it."
Obama's campaign has also used digital media much more aggressively to target specific voter groups such as seniors, teachers, nurses and parents. Obama's campaign had dedicated Web pages oriented toward those groups and others, while Romney did not. But Romney had custom sites for Catholics, lawyers and Polish-Americans, groups that didn't have their own pages on Obama's site.
Both candidates emphasized economic issues above all else, even though posts about the economy don't seem to grab the attention of online users. Messages about issues like immigration and health care were much more likely to get shares or retweeted than those about the economy, the report found.
Foreign policy was almost completely absent from both candidates' digital campaigns.
Which YouTube video has gotten the most attention of the campaign? First lady Michelle Obama's Father's Day message to her husband, which was viewed more than 210,000 times.