Facebook Primary June 2019

Alex McHaddad, June 8, 2019

Facebook

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You can't stump the Trump, at least on social media. President Donald Trump had the largest social media following of any 2016 candidate, still surpassing other candidates in 2019. While Senator Bernie Sanders is still his top opponent on Facebook and Twitter, the Vermont legislator's followers have only increased by 1,100 since May, a far cry from President Trump's 49,000 new followers in the past month.

The only candidates who have received more than 10,000 new followers since May are President Trump, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Only a handful of candidates have seen increased growth, including Senator Warren, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Senator Mike Gravel, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Governor Jay Inslee, Senator Sanders, and Governor John Hickenlooper. Representative John Delaney, meanwhile, lost fewer followers from May-June than from April-May.

Some candidates with declining growth rates have seen rather steep declines. Vice President Joe Biden's growth rate dropped from 77k to 8k, and Mayor Buttigieg from 140k to 41k. Secretary Julian Castro and Senator Cory Booker both saw their likes decrease by by 73%, Rep. Tim Ryan by 70%, Rep. Eric Swalwell by 64%, Rep. Beto O'Rourke by 58%, Mayor Wayne Messam by 57%, Senator Amy Klobuchar by 47%, and Senator Kamala Harris by 42%.

Twitter

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Still the king of Twitter, President Trump still has more than twice as many followers as all other candidates combined. While other candidates had a combined net increase of over 550,000 followers, President Trump has gained 800,000 new followers since May. Mayor Buttigieg leapfrogged Senator Sanders to receive the highest following growth since last month, but total growth for candidates has decreased significantly - Buttigieg's growth dropped by 163,000 followers, while Senator Sanders saw his growth drop from 1 million to just 10,000. The only candidate whose growth rate increased was Representative Gabbard. Meanwhile, VP Biden actually lost 10,000 followers.

The bottom tier of candidates has not changed, either. Governor Weld still has more followers than the bottom 5 Democratic candidates, Governor Inslee, Representatives Ryan and Delaney, Senator Michael Bennet, and Mayor Messam.

Other patterns are also holding. Senators Sanders and Booker, VP Biden, and Senator Harris are still the top 4 major candidates, followed by perennial candidate Marianne Williamson, whose growth has kept her ahead of Senator Warren. Only nine Democratic candidates have more than 1 million followers, with Mayor Buttigieg's 1.1 million followers outpacing runner-up Senator Klobuchar's followers by 400,000.

Party Performance

Party performance on Twitter was a statistically significant predictor of the Electoral College votes during the 2016 US Presidential election, and party performance on Twitter and Facebook were both statistically significant predictors of party performance during the 2019 European Parliament performance. My current working theory is that parties are ultimately more popular than their leadership because parties are broad coalitions of leaders and ideals spread across large geographic areas, rather than singular cults of personality. As in the EU, America's center-right political party, the Republicans, is more popular on social media than the center-left Democratic Party. The two major parties are followed by the right wing Libertarians, who have been the 3rd best performing party since 2004, and the Green Party, who placed 4th in the popular vote in 2012 and 2016. In 2016, a Libertarian received an electoral vote for President, and a Green Party member received an electoral vote for Vice President.

2016 1st Democratic debate participants. Photo Credit: USA Today.

Takeaways

Remember that at this stage in a primary process, a candidate's performance on social media best measures their exposure and the interest of voters, and likely not their chances at winning. Senator Sanders remains the top challenger to President Trump on social media, while Mayor Buttigieg is still gaining the most new followers even though this growth rate has slowed significantly on both platforms.

President Trump is likely benefiting from being the only significant contender for the 2020 GOP Presidential nomination. His only serious declared challenger, Governor Bill Weld, is an interesting piece of the puzzle. Absent from electoral politics between 2006-2016, Governor Weld remains more popular on Twitter than more contemporary leaders such as Rep. Ryan and Governor Inslee; and more popular on Facebook than Rep. Ryan, Governor Inslee, Mayor Bill De Blasio, Governor Hickenlooper, Rep. Eric Swalwell, and Governor Steve Bullock.

The first two debates, held on June 26 and 27, are likely to have a major impact on the race. Candidates may drop out if they are not invited or if they perform poorly. Other candidates are likely to see decreased growth, a loss in followers, or skyrocketing new popularity. Between September 15-October 15 2015, for example, future HUD Secretary Ben Carson received 1.3 million more new Facebook page likes than Senator Marco Rubio had gained during the lifetime of his page thus far.

Remember to like and follow your candidates on social media to help them gain exposure and generate interest from your fellow voters.