Many media commentators say John F. Kennedy won the 1960 Presidential election on the night Richard Nixon sweated his way through a televised debate. By contrast, Kennedy looked cool, calm, and confident on the new medium. Radio listeners apparently believed Nixon had won the debate, but the more numerous TV viewers thought Kennedy was the clear winner.

“It’s one of those unusual points on the timeline of history where you can say things changed very dramatically – in this case, in a single night,” media historian Alan Schroeder told Time magazine.

More than 50 years later, social media is playing a similarly disruptive role in politics, highlighting and amplifying candidates’ gaffes, opening up new marketing channels for the campaigns, and offering armchair pundits a platform to vent their political opinions. But while measuring the impact of the likes of the Nixon-Kennedy debate was mostly guesswork, for social media we’re armed with tools for analyzing big data that provide the campaigns and voters with specific, actionable insights.

Social TV analytics company Bluefin Labs is offering just that sort of analysis for free on a just-launched blog that promises to decode the “social signals of politics and culture.” Called The Crowdwire, it is overseen by former Washington Post journalist William Powers, who also authored the New York Times best-seller “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age“.

In its opening post yesterday, The Crowdfire announced its intention to “make sense of the gigantic, lively conversation about politics and other topics now taking place in social media, using the best analytic tools available.” The blog will be posting frequent analyses of the US presidential race. “There’s a lot of discussion right now about the influence of Twitter and Facebook on the election,” the post said, “and we felt it was time someone took a deep dive into the subject.”

In a post today, the blog compared the brand power of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in social media. So far, the President seems to be doing nicely, attracting 6.9 million social media comments and edging out the iPhone for the top spot among the “brands” Bluefin tracked.

But his Republican opponent wasn’t faring too badly himself. Romney held third place with 5.6 million comments, just above new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises”. When the influence of social commenters – measured by follower counts – was taken into account, however, Romney actually beat the iPhone for social exposure, the blog noted.

The Crowdwire was quick to point out that the social media population, which tends to be younger and more urban than the average voter, does not reflect the electorate at large. And not all comments  about the candidates are positive, as the Olympics-related hashtag #RomneyShambles proves. The blog also pointed out that other celebrities get a lot more chat on the social networks than do the pols. Justin Bieber, for instance, is more talked about on Twitter than Obama and Romney combined. Suck on that, democracy.

So far, this is just a superficial look at what’s happening around the election on social media, but The Crowdwire says more edifying analysis is forthcoming and that it will use Bluefin’s “Big Data” tools to draw narratives out of the messy data. “As these nuances suggest, to truly understand the social conversation, you have to go deep,” the blog said. “That’s what this blog will strive to do.”

If it can deliver on that promise, perhaps it will act as an antidote to the hacky way so many newspapers and magazines refer to social media for soundbites from the campaign. And perhaps it can even make sense of all those blathering self-appointed political pundits on Twitter. But let’s not hold out too much hope on that one.