How Web savvy are Romney, Gingrich and Obama?

How Web savvy are Romney, Gingrich and Obama?

Summary: Barack Obama and the Republican presidential candidates' all claim to be pretty pro-technology, so Strangeloop, a Web site optimization company, took a dive into their Websites and mobile strategies to see how they really stack up.


In politics, the faster the Web site, the more votes you get? Could be!

In politics, the faster the Web site, the more votes you get? Could be!

President Barack Obama recently held a Google+ video Hangout; Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich promised to have a permanent U.S. moon-base by 2020; and fellow Republican Mitt Romney, along with Gingrich and Obama, are against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA). So, as politicians go, these guys are all pretty tech-savvy right? Well, yes and no. If you look at their Web sites, which is what Strangeloop, a Web site optimization company, did, you'll find that neither Republicans nor Democrats are as up to speed as you might like.

According to Strangeloop president, Joshua Bixby, "I wanted to see if [their] pro-tech stance extends to Web performance, so I decided to take a shallow dive into their websites and mobile strategies. I was actually kind of surprised to see some interesting patterns emerge."

First, "Web site speed correlates (mostly) to position in the primaries. At 46.4% and 31.9%, respectively, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich led the Florida primary. Interestingly, both also lead when it came to site speed. Gingrich's site is fastest, with a load time of 7.7 seconds (maybe we shouldn't be so quick to laugh at his plans to colonize the moon), while Romney's loaded in 9.3 seconds. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul lagged in both areas, trailing far behind in votes and suffering load times of 10.7 and 13.5 seconds, respectively. (Interesting to note: President Obama's site fared worst of all, with a load time of 13.6 seconds.)" But, then Obama's not really running yet either.

But, when it came to supporting smartphones and tablets, no one did very well. As Bixby states, "one-third of mobile users want to access a site's full content, not just a stripped-down "mobile" version." I agree.

As Bixby said in an earlier interview with O'Reilly Radar, "We talk about 'the Web' and 'the mobile Web' as if the two are different, but they aren't. I'm the first to admit that I'm as guilty of doing this as the next person. Using these terms is helpful for discussing differences in how people browse via different devices, but at the end of the day, it's all one web. Users want the same breadth and depth of content, no matter what device they're using. They want a consistent, reliable user experience. They don't want to interact with your site one way at their desks, then learn a whole new way when they're tablet-surfing on the couch, and then learn a third way when they're roaming around with their phones."

True, "making a full site usable on a mobile device is a major challenge - a challenge that none of the candidates rose to. Romney is the only candidate to serve a mobile site, which, to his credit, did link to the full site. The other candidates all deliver their full websites to mobile" But, "Mobile experiences ranged from poor to terrible on Android over 3G."

Bixby explained, "I visited each of the candidates' sites using two mobile devices and networks: my iPhone over wifi, and a borrowed Android over 3G. While all the sites loaded within 10-20 seconds on my iPhone, their performance on the Android via 3G ranged from slow to unbearable. Romney's site was fastest, at 21 seconds, but it failed to size properly (see below) in the browser. The full sites for Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul each took several minutes to load."

Even over the far faster Wi-Fi connection, "On every site, the primary call to action - donate - was either lost or ineffective for mobile users. On all the non-optimized sites, the 'Donate' button was lost on the screen. Romney's mobile-optimized site made it easy to find the "Donate" button, but on the Android it kept generating an error message saying there was a problem with the security certificate - not something a potential donor wants to read right before handing over their credit card information."

No, no it's not.

Why should any of this matter though except to tech. geeks? Bixby points out that "there are a couple of obvious, self-serving reasons to walk the walk when it comes to your Web presence: it makes it easier for you to reach more people, and it makes it easier for your supporters to, you know, support you. Candidates may not care about this beyond the lip-service stage right now, but a few things to bear in mind down the road, when campaigning really heats up:

  • 25% of Americans who have mobile devices use mobile exclusively. This means 1 out of every 4 voters expects to be able to access the full site via their device.
  • According to the Pew Research's 35% of American Adults Own a Smartphone report many members of the mobile-only group are technology late adopters, skewing toward older people and those with lower incomes. These groups have traditionally been heavily targeted by Republican candidates
  • By the same token, people with lower incomes are more likely to be users of Androids and non-iPhone devices, and more likely to access the Internet via 3G.
  • Only 28% of smartphone owners use an iPhone, according to Nielsen. Having a mobile site optimized only for iPhone users is like slamming the door on almost three-quarters of voters.

True, iOS is gaining in popularity to Android but does a candidate really want to close the door on any significant number of potential voters? The presidential campaigns need to support both Android and iOS on their Web sites at speeds at least as low as those provided by 3G.

Presidential candidate/Web site speed image courtesy of Strangeloop.

Related Stories:

Mitt Romney is dominating Facebook (infographic)

5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

Are these really the best America has to offer? (Campaign 2012)

Strangeloop offers the first Google SPDY Web-site acceleration product

Google speeds up the Web with SPDY

Topics: Mobility, Android, iOS, iPhone, Mobile OS, Piracy, Security, Smartphones

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  • RE: How Web savvy are Romney, Gingrich and Obama?

    It's especially interesting that the Republicans don't do well with their sites on Android, since we all know that Android users are cheap skinflints (that is to say, Republicans). :-)
  • RE: How Web savvy are Romney, Gingrich and Obama?

    Independents would start using Android if the platforms were cheaper or existing platforms actually had a grown-up browser. "Cheap"? Hey, I'd be a cheap skinflint too, if I thought I could get something that worked, and spend less. Right now I have a handful of gadgets and no single one of them can do everything I want. Heck, just to have a BATTERY CHARGER THAT WORKS WITH ALL OF THIS CRAP, would be a major triumph.
  • Better Look

    I took this a step farther:
    Samsung Skyrocket (LTE)
    iPhone 4

    Ran all with both on wireless, no wifi. I was surprised at the results.
    Location: Los Angeles

    Mobile site - No
    Full site = yes (starts with an add :( )
    Sizes properly on Android - No - load time = 7 seconds
    Sizes properly on iPhone - No - load time = 28 seconds

    Mobile site - No
    Full site = yes
    Sizes properly on Android - Yes - load time = 3 seconds
    Sizes properly on iPhone - No - load time = 32 seconds

    Mobile site - Yes
    Load time Android = 2 seconds
    Load time iPhone = 12 seconds
    Full site = yes
    Sizes properly on Android - Yes - load time = 4 seconds
    Sizes properly on iPhone - Yes - load time = 19 seconds
    • RE: How Web savvy are Romney, Gingrich and Obama?

      @rhonin Great stats! Though the gist of the blog reflects more on the candidate's staff's savvy rather than the candidate themselves. I doubt whether any one of the candidates listed personally have much knowledge of the web and how it works other than having been briefed perhaps by more savvy staff.
      • True and disconcerting


        considering who they are trying to reach.....
  • I think these are money issues

    The more money a candidate has, the more he can spend on improving his website. One would think that webmastering could be trusted to a savvy volunteer, but election campaigns don't seem to work that way any more.
    John L. Ries
    • Not a money issue

      @John L. Ries

      We are looking at basic access functionality - who do you want to reach.
      How fancy it is (money) is another issue.
  • Just wondering how this relates

    None of the candidates coded their own websites. They hired outside firms to do it, or it's a part of their campaign office's promotional department. Either way, I'm certain that these people don't know much about their website besides its URL - it's not their responsibility to. What would be more telling would be to figure out which of the candidates had the most direct influence on how the page looks. Did they simply pander to their advisors, or did they cast their own vision for it? Do they care whether it's mobile-accessible? Do they use a smartphone themselves? Is it jailbroken/rooted/HardSPL'd?

    These are the questions that ratchet back to the original - not how fast their load time is.

    • Ouch


      From my perspective, I as a voter would like access to my candidates thoughts and news. They can let me rely on what I hear/watch in the media or offer a website of their own. I don't expect them to code it (be cool if they could) but I would expect it to have basic access for this level of politics:
      - regular web site
      - mobile website

      This shows acknowledgement of the avenues in use by the public.
      These results tell me I need to take a bigger grain of salt with the viewpoint of these candidates and makes me question even harder the technology verbiage spouted from the White House today.
  • RE: How Web savvy are Romney, Gingrich and Obama?

    I'm waiting for the new "Obama Girl" videos. But aside from that unless Romney, or Gingrich suddenly get Union endorsements, I'm voting for Obama again. I think that Obama will win this year as easily as he did the last time. Obama is the best President, this country has ever had , outside of Kennedy.

    Everyone should vote for Democrats. If you need any help deciding I have several PowerPoint shows that will show why to only vote Democrat.
  • Um, maybe thats not the reason.

    Web sites that get little or no traffice are often fast for the few that visit them.
  • Clowns

    If I have to vote for a clown for President, I'll choose a real one even if I have to write-in the name:
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • What!!! No Bozo??? (NT)

      @Rabid Howler Monkey

      linux for me