When a full field of GOP candidates line up for a debate tonight, it will be the first true test of the 2012 primary season. Even though it is seven months before the first primary, Republicans are starting to hash out who will be the front runner in their party to try to knock President Barack Obama out of office.
A lot of money will be spent on the campaign. Polls will be taken as to how voters may choose which candidate gets to have their party's nomination. It will be a contentious period in American politics with many people trying to predict who will win.
Forget fancy and expensive polls that determine the will of voters. All one has to do is look at prospective candidates' statistics on places like Twitter and Facebook to determine who will win the 2012 GOP nomination for president.
Herman Cain is the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza. He is the lone participant in the GOP race that hasn't held political office in the past. His Twitter page called "TheHermanCain" boasts more than 41,000 followers while his official website has only been "liked" on Facebook 314 times. Cain still has some work to do.
Despite a mass exodus of his campaign staff, Newt Gingrich has a massive following on Twitter as compared to Cain. More than 1.3 million people follow his every tweet. More than 140,000 like his official Facebook page. Gingrich is in much better standing to get the nomination than most candidates.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has had his eye on the White House for a few months. He may still have some ground to cover in order to catch up to Gingrich's numbers. On Twitter, Pawlenty has a modest 40,000 followers but excels at Facebook posts by having over 100,000.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has often sparred with tea party members but has tried to woo the conservative base of the GOP. His Twitter account has just fewer than 10,000 followers and his Facebook page has a paltry 20,000.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is a front runner in many polls. Yet he only has around 50,000 people who watch his every move on Twitter. Facebook is much better with over 954,000 accounts that "like" him. Despite his popularity in polls, Romney still isn't the top spot among social network users.
Rep. Ron Paul
Rep. Ron Paul is one of two sitting politicians who is running for president. The Texas Republican can proudly say he has over 53,000 followers on Twitter. Even more impressive, Paul has almost 390,000 people who have "liked" his Facebook page doing better than most candidates.
Rep. Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is the other candidate who currently holds office. She boasts over 50,000 Twitter followers and over 197,000 people who have liked her on Facebook. While not a front runner based upon these numbers, Bachmann is doing better than some of the men in the field.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin still hasn't made up her mind about whether or not she's running for president. She's been watching the politics from the sidelines without telling supporters whether or not she's running. Palin's numbers are the best of any single one of the people who have decided to seek the GOP nomination. Her Twitter account has over 557,000 followers but has well over 3.1 million "likes" on her Facebook page.
If we do the math between Twitter and Facebook users who like various candidates, Palin comes in first with more than 3,657,000 followers. Gingrich comes in second with 1.44 million followers between the two websites. Romney would take the third position with over 1 million people who automatically get regular updates on Twitter and Facebook.
Palin really should run for president because she will likely get the GOP nomination based upon how many people follow her. Otherwise, it appears Newt Gingrich may have the most name recognition of the bunch. It's still early in the proceedings and there is still seven months of hard work to do before the first election. It will be interesting to see how many followers each candidate gets the more debates they attend.
William Browning is a research librarian specializing in U.S. politics. Born in St. Louis, Browning is active in local politics and served as a campaign volunteer for President Barack Obama and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.