At this time during the run up to the last presidential election, Wikipedia was in its infancy. In July of 2003, the online encyclopedia attracted less than half a million US visitors. Fast forward four years. In July of 2007 over 41 million people, or 1 in 4 people online in the US, visited the site. Wikipedia is now the 12th most visited website and is likely to play a significant role in informing and influencing those who will choose our next president.
All of the candidates have exhaustive articles dedicated to them on Wikipedia that offer in-depth biographical information and near-real time updates on the ups and downs of their campaigns. As anyone (including supporters and detractors) can edit the information, Wikipedia provides a counterweight to the carefully scripted information released on the candidates’ official websites.
The table below compares the activity on each candidate’s Wikipedia articles in July in terms of total readers, time spent on the article (reading, commenting, editing, etc.) and their share of all time spent across all of these articles. Finally, the table compares the overlap between a candidate’s Wikipedia readership and their official website traffic. For example, in July, 42% of the people who read Ron Paul’s Wikipedia article also visited RonPaul2008.com.
Rankings across these metrics were then averaged. Who comes out on top? The results might come as a surprise to those accustomed to seeing the party front runners capturing all of the headlines.
- Lesser known, grass-roots supported candidates, such as Ron Paul, fare particularly well in this comparison. Although trailing rivals in national polls, Paul attracts a sizable following on Wikipedia. In July his article was second only to Barack Obama’s in terms of readership, but accounted for nearly a quarter of all time spent across all of the candidates’ articles. This certainly speaks to the avid devotion of Paul’s supporters (online in particular).
- Household names such as Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani trail rivals in this comparison. The modest interest seen in their Wikipedia articles could be a result of the public’s general familiarity with candidates whose lives of late have played out on the public stage.
- The front runners from both parties appear to capture a wider range of readership (not just supporters) than the 2nd tier candidates, given the low levels of campaign site visitation among their Wikipedia article readers.
- Fred Thompson attracted considerably more Wikipedia interest than his leading Republican rivals in July, not surprising given the uncertainty surrounding his entry into the race and his party’s continued search for favorite candidate.