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Duking It Out Online

This year's presidential campaign, more than any in history, will play out on a digital battleground - everything from the candidates' own websites to Facebook and Twitter and anything, really, that comes to us byte-by-byte. Digital ads have joined television and radio ads as instruments of political persuasion and propaganda. E-mail is crowding out direct mail in the same way. Even fundraising has moved increasingly online, where campaigns can collect money (in mostly small amounts) nearly as fast as they can ask for it with little in the way of overhead - and no door-to-door solicitation.

So it's worth paying some attention to a new report that examines how digital media are shaping the 2012 presidential election. It's from comScore, a digital marketing intelligence firm that - to oversimplify things a bit - studies our online behavior in the way that the A.C. Nielsen organization tracks our television-watching habits.

The report suggests that Republicans will have some catching up to do this year.

"While the Obama campaign was blanketing the web with ads in 2011," it says, "the Republicans were almost nowhere to be found." It points out that the Obama campaign has placed 10 times as many digital ads in the past six months (including 835 million in February alone) as the campaigns of the four leading GOP candidates combined.

And if you're thinking that all these ads are aimed at young Internet users, you might well be wrong. As it turns out, 57 percent of the visitors to the Obama campaign's website are age 45 and older, suggesting that its digital advertising is, as the marketers like to say, driving an older demographic there. In contrast, only 30 percent of the visitors to Mitt Romney's campaign website are 45 and older.

The tables are turned when it comes to social media. Some 22 percent of Obama's 25 million Facebook fans are 45 and older; 39 percent of Romney's 1.6 million Facebook fans are 45-plus.

"Although [Romney] has not yet amassed an audience that is anywhere near President Obama's," the folks at comScore conclude, "the audience he is reaching through social means actually skews older than the audience that visits his website."

The numbers certainly give digital strategists in both campaigns something to chew on. And in the months ahead, they'll be aiming to give the rest of us something to click on. -Bill Hogan

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