Ryan Meili and Dwain Lingenfelter Facebook Face-off (aka I Have Too Much Time On My Hands)

When I first started looking into the NDP leadership race, I went to the now obligatory Facebook fan pages of each of the four leadership candidates. 

I was a bit shocked to see that Dwain Lingenfelter had almost twice the number of supporters that Ryan Meili had – even though Meili was the much younger candidate with a lot more appeal to the younger set who would be likely to show their support for someone on Facebook. 

I started clicking through their lists of supporters and was a bit surprised to find that a large number of Lingenfelter's supporters were either obviously (because of their network affiliations) or very likely (based on their names) from South America.  (And I'm not the only one who noticed it – Small Dead Animals, a right-wing blog I've defended on my blog before – also pointed out this incongruity.)

I later learned that Lingenfelter's wife is from Columbia and this is where the support comes from – likely she's been spreading the word among her connections back home and encouraging them to support her husband's campaign. 

There's nothing illegal about this of course and Facebook fan page counts (like any other online poll) aren't binding in any way.  But they could convey a message about support and momentum, especially to a reporter (professional or otherwise) that wasn't paying attention.  For example, if tomorrow's Leader Post says “Lingenfelter has twice the online support that Meili does” without explaining that a lot of this support is from people who can't vote in the leadership race, that's misleading at best and could have an impact on the race at worst.  

So, in the interests of finding out what support levels might really indicate, I did some counting last night.  I focused on the two people who are leading in online Facebook support – Lingenfelter who had 543 supporters at the time I checked and Meili who had 290 (For the record, the other two candidates have the following totals: Pedersen – 209 and Higgins – 69.) 

I went through both lists of fan page members counting *only* those who are identifiable as belonging to a Saskatchewan network in some way – most likely by having joined a city or a University or a high school network. 

There are numerous problems with this methodology:
1) there are some people who support more than one candidate but at least in my counts, they would cancel each other out.

2) some people I *knew* were from Saskatchewan didn't get counted.  (In fact Ryan Meili himself doesn't belong to a network so didn't get counted in his own total!  Plus Lingenfelter does belong to the Regina network so there was no canceling out effect on this point.)

3) some who belong to a University network may be alumni who are no longer in the province and therefore, ineligible to vote even if they support one candidate or the other. 
Before someone calls me on it, I'll admit that I did a pretty quick count late at night clicking through dozens of pages so my final totals likely aren't 100% accurate and I may be out a few people either way for each candidate.  But here's what I came up with in terms of Saskatchewan-based support:

Lingenfelter – 128/543 = 24% (or less than a quarter of his support from people identifiable as being connected to Saskatchewan.  I thought about it but didn't also do a count of Lingenfelter fans who are in the Columbia network or who have Spanish-sounding names to see if my assertion elsewhere that the “vast majority” of Lingenfelter's online support comes from outside the country is true.  But with only one quarter of his online support coming from Saskatchewan, it's definitely possible.)

Meili =  173/290 = 60% (or three out of every five of his supporters are people identifiable as being connected to Saskatchewan)

I've already seen some spin this as Lingenfelter having lots of international experience/support but I think that's a bit of a stretch.  I mean, I have family in Hawaii but that doesn't mean I know how to surf!   What this really shows me is that this race might just be a lot closer than people realise – especially if Meili can continue to leverage the advantages of social networking. 

(To be fair, these numbers maybe just prove my initial suspicion that Meili would have the type of supporters who not only join Facebook but also join networks to expand their reach within those networks. 

And to be even more fair, there's a poll up right now on the citizen journalism site, Act Up In Saskatchewan, that shows it as a race between Lingenfelter and Pedersen. That poll allows you to vote more than once so that's hardly representative but you could probably claim it's as legitimate as counting Facebook supporters. Here's the current totals on it:

Who should be the next NDP leader?
Dwain Lingenfelter

Yens Pederson [sic]

Ryan Meili

Deb Higgins

Don't care


Number of Voters  : 

Comments 4

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Yeah, because bringing new housing to Cuba and farming practices surely is not international development. Nor is working with world leaders international experience…

    Posted 24 Mar 2009 at 2:41 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    You make it sound like Lingenfelter is Dr. Norman Bethune himself the way that people from the developing world are rallying to support his campaign!
    That could be the case but then I'd expect to see at least some representation from Nicaragua or Mozambique in Ryan's Facebook list.
    I don't see that so either Lingenfelter's work had more impact on the people he reached – so much that they've followed his career twenty years later and are eager to join his Facebook fan page to support him from afar. Or my original theory that these are family and friends helping show their support (and possibly encouraged to do so to boost his numbers) is true.
    Which do you think is more likely?

    Posted 24 Mar 2009 at 2:52 am
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    I simply am stating a fact. You admitted yourself you had no idea what any of the other leadership candidates have done. I would certainly agree family and friends of a candidate joined to support Lingenfelter. Sort of like Obama support in Kenya….

    Posted 24 Mar 2009 at 3:06 am
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Okay, I mis-read your post – I thought you were saying that at least some of Lingenfelter's online support was from his development work back in the day instead of from the family and friends of his wife.

    Posted 24 Mar 2009 at 3:19 am

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