Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.

DURHAM, N.C. – Is social media the new bellwether of political fortunes, and is what people are sharing on Facebook and tweeting on Twitter a better predictor than polls about what’s churning in campaigns?

EvoApp, a startup in Durham that mines social media information for what it calls “social business intelligence,” believes the answer to both those questions is a resounding yes.

If so, watch Gallup and all the other polling groups race to embrace what EvoApp seems to be uncovering.

As proof, the two-year-old firm launched by a pair of graduates from the North Carolina School of Science and Math cites the rise and recently faltering candidacy of Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain.

“The old paradigm of waiting for poll results, focus groups and expensive reports is gone,” EvoApp concludes in a blog about its study of the Cain campaign. “The conversation now happens in real-time through social media, but the sources are as diverse and scattered as the opinions.”

To gather and analyze that “diverse and scattered” information is EvoApp’s secret sauce.

“Our core engine is the fastest, most effective tool in the industry for discovering relationships, powering collaboration, and understanding customers,” says EvoApp, which was founded by Joe Davy and Alexey Melnichenko.

EvoApp, now run by veteran entrepreneur and venture capitalist Kip Frey, spells out its social media intelligence and political polling connection in an info graphic tracking the Cain candidacy as it soared on the “9-9-9” tax plan then faltered after a series of sexual harassment claims.

“Razing Cain”

The graphic, titled “Razing Cain,” grouped and analyzed four main categories of data to track Cain’s rise and slip.

• Cumulative sentiment
• Positive identity
• Conversation volume
• Name recognition

“The baseline results align in a very extraordinary way – as Gallup’s Name Recognition metric increases, so does the volume of social media conversation recorded by EvoApp,” wrote Sergei Dolukhanov in a blog paired with the graphic that was designed by Pete Green.

“Additionally, Gallup’s Positive Intensity metric and EvoApp’s Cumulative Sentiment metric correlate very strongly. As we look deeper at the data, some very interesting direct relationships become apparent. As new events occur, the public instantly reveals their sentiment in real-time via social media; this correlates strongly with polling data revealed days or weeks later.”

Dolukhanov concludes that EvoApp’s tracking of “real-time conversations in social media” blended with other information “provides opportunities to analyze presidential elections like never before; in real-time. The goals are the same; the means by which we arrive at them are rapidly evolving and must be actively pursued. Faster and less expensive than traditional channels of communication, social media contains a wealth of real-time data waiting to be tapped.”

EvoApp founded that “cumulative sentiment” in social media dropped “dramatically” ahead of Gallup’s poll numbers.

In other words, EvoApp knew Cain was headed down, down, down before the pollsters did.

“Can Herman Cain recover his battered campaign and reclaim his former popularity? We will have to wait and see. What we do know is that the way we communicate and understand the world around us has fundamentally changed, especially in politics,” Dolukhanov wrote.

“Social media channels have given everyone access and a platform to have their voice heard on an international scale. As information is available to us in massive quantities and in real-time, understanding how this information impacts the outcomes important to us, whether a business or presidential campaign, is the key to success for everyone from CEOs to presidential candidates. Herman Cain is learning this the hard way.”

(Click here for the full-size graphic and the EvoApp blog.)

Get the latest news alerts: Follow WRAL Tech Wire at Twitter.