One of the places I least expected to find a poll about the Republican presidential candidates was on PerezHilton.com. Yet, there it was.
PerezHilton.com is a celebrity gossip blog, and its namesake has risen to fame for his biting words and eccentric outfits. On the blog, amid the background advertisement for the latest edition of the computer game Sims and next to a story about Oprah’s interview with Whitney Houston’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, was a poll asking, “If the Republican Presidential Primary in your state was held today, who would you vote for?”
The results showed that most of the blog readers are not registered Republican (63%), but some readers did cast a virtual vote. Mitt Romney edged out Ron Paul, 14 to 13%, respectively. Rick Santorum came in third with 4%, and Newt Gingrich proved to be the least popular with only 3%.
Of course the results of this poll are unlikely to get picked up by RealClearPolitics any time soon. And it is likely that the question was used to get a better landscape of the readers for potential advertisers. The questions that followed this one had nothing to do with politics and asked things like, “How much do you like Sprite?”
But the presence of this poll does say something about where people could get political news.
Twitter and Facebook, though intended as social networking sites, have become resources of news. I follow a number of political tweeters to get the latest on the 2012 election, but I also get other news from Twitter. For instance, the first time I heard about the successful raid to kill Osama Bin Laden was on Twitter. And because I “liked” the NPR page on Facebook a while back, my newsfeed is now dotted with NPR stories.
Nonpartisan Pew Research Center just put out a report yesterday about social networking sites and politics that provides insight into these 2012 campaign dynamics.
Despite the occurrence of news on these social networking sites, PerezHilton.com as a place for politics may still seem strange. It is a gossip blog filled with celeb news on the latest escapades of Lindsay Lohan or Kim Kardashian. We do know, though, that there is a lot of gossip in politics. In 2008 there was much ado about Barack Obama’s celebrity status, and his hoard of Hollywood supporters, such as George Clooney and will.i.am.
This is also not the first time PerezHilton.com has dabbled in politics.
A quick search on the site shows pages of results for each of the past and present Republican presidential candidates, ranging from posts about primary or caucus results, to Romney being glitter bombed, to videos of Michele Bachmann “bragging about being homophobic.” The site is also awash in stories about the Obama family. Additionally, there are posts about other political topics, including, for example, Rush Limbaugh losing advertisers because he called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut,” and Gov. Christine Gregoire signing the same-sex marriage bill. Most of the posts include a few sentences of commentary and then point the reader to an external news source. So the site is more like a news aggregator, with most of that news being about fashion, love triangles, and who’s in rehab.
It is easy, then, to dismiss PerezHilton.com as a source of political news. However, it does merit some weight. The “grazing effect” has traditionally been seen as an advantage of the print newspaper. This is the idea that without hyper selective exposure to only some news via customizable news reader feeds or the specialized blogs of today, news consumers used to get a broad range of topics in their newspaper, and that they would “graze” over the content and perhaps read things they normally wouldn’t because it was right there in front of them.
According to PerezHilton.com, the site averages 220 million impressions and 12 million unique readers per month, with about 59% of those in the 21-34 age category, 88% female, and 86% who have attended college. If any of these 12 million readers are coming to the site to get the latest on celeb gossip, but stop and read a post about the election, then the grazing effect may lead to an increase in knowledge. Even if readers don’t click-thru, mere exposure to the headlines can still be informative about who is running, who won what primary, the candidate’s stance on an issue, etc.
These short posts, of course, are unlikely to spur fervent political news consumption in its readers, but by delivering political news to readers via a site they habitually check, it is certainly better than nothing.