How Strong is the Republican Brand?

The momentary lull in the campaign has provided a moment of reflection for candidates. Mitt Romney faces a tough hill to climb in Michigan, his native state, while Newt Gingrich sheepishly realizes that he could reasonably lose his home, Georgia. As the candidates plot their next moves, we wondered: just how strong is their collective force? How highly regarded is the Republican brand?

It's a complicated question with an imprecise answer. We asked the Election Oracle to study all mentions of the word "Republican" or "GOP" online to gauge whether the sentiment was positive or negative. The verdict: it depends on the day. Over the past month, with volatile news cycles, the Republican brand has earned a favorability rating as high as high as 39 and as low as -64. It's a robust sample size. On an given day, there were at least 70,000 mentions of the words online in one context or another. Accounting for the Election Oracle's occasional confusion (is the headline "Republicans Vote in Maine" positive or negative?) the takeaway is still clear: the GOP brand doesn't hold much established capital online, leaving it susceptible to minor ticks in the Republican primary race or Congress' schedule.

To determine favorability ratings, the Election Oracle tracks 40,000 news sites, blogs, message boards, Twitter feeds, and other social-media sources to analyze what millions of people are saying about the candidates—and determines whether the Web buzz is positive or negative. That rating is weighted, along with the Real Clear Politics polling average and the latest InTrade market data, to calculate each candidate’s chances of winning the Republican nomination. (See methodology here.)

For curiosity, we also ran "Democrat'' and its offshoots to compare the buzz. The sources that mention both party names are far from identical. Web users are predominantly younger, and certainly tend to be more liberal. You also run into problems gauging the word "democratic," as in "party," for obvious reason. But the broader trends suggests that while Republicans undergo a period of intense self reflection, Democrats have avoided the existential look inward, staying mostly above the fray with a positive web favorability. That will undoubtedly change as the general election heats up, drawing as much focus on the parties as the candidates. From a starting point, however, the field doesn't appear quite level.

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