Welcome Back, Facebook Primary

Alex McHaddad, May 10, 2019

The Facebook Primary

During the 2016 election cycle, I served as Chair of College Republicans at Eastern Oregon University and interned for Presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Like all other political junkies in the United States, I wanted to know who would be the next President, but I lacked my own method for scientific polling. As a joke, I started collecting monthly data about candidate Facebook & Twitter followers in the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, and Green Parties, ranking them by their social media prowess as a predictor for their electoral success. Each month I posted a new social media analysis on the website of EOU's Political Action Club, a series I called "The Facebook Primary."

Unfortunately, the joke got a little out of hand because social media performance was ultimately a reliable predictor of electoral performance. As primaries, debates, and polls culled more Republicans from the race, social media performance and delegate tallies for GOP candidates were correlated at a statistically significant 93.5% in March 2016. This number grew to a highly significant correlation of 95% in April 2016, only increasing to 96.4% in May. In December 2016, the tally of electoral college votes cast for Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, and Green candidates had a statistically significant correlation to the followers each party had on Twitter.

The Facebook Primary

US Senator Bernie Sanders leads the Democratic pack on Facebook and Twitter, outpacing the closest challenger on both platforms by at least 1 million followers. US Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vice President Joe Biden, and US Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are the only other Democratic candidates with more than 1 million followers, though US Rep. Beto O'Rourke is not far from that line. None of the remaining serious candidates have more than 375,000 page likes.

Each candidate will have to make up for a serious deficit against President Donald Trump, whose 23 million page likes outnumber the total page likes of Democratic candidates by 7 million. Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, a potential GOP primary challenger, has only 81,000 page likes, placing him just above the bottom 3rd of Democratic candidates.

The Twitter Primary

While Senator Sanders is the king of Twitter followers, the popularity rankings on this platform are different than Facebook. Vice President Biden is still third, but he ranks below Senator Booker rather than Senator Warren. All Democratic candidates with at least 1 million Facebook followers have at least 1 million Twitter followers, but on this platform the 1 million mark has also been passed by US Senator Kristen Gillibrand, Rep. O'Rourke, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (South Bend, Indiana). A non-serious candidate, writer/nonprofit executive Marianne Williamson, has accrued 2.6 million Twitter followers.

President Trump has performed even better on Twitter than Facebook, where he has twice as many followers as all Democratic candidates combined (respectively 60.1 million and 30.9 million). Governor Weld's 70,000 followers leave him in the bottom fifth of Twitter followers, He still performs better than Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Mayor Wayne Messam (Miramar, FL).

Facebook Growth

Mayor Buttigieg has become increasingly popular in polls, also benefiting from growing media coverage. The Mayor's exposure is evident on social media, where he received the most new Facebook followers between April-May. He was followed by VP Biden, Senators Harris and Warren, and US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Senator Sanders, meanwhile, had the second-smallest growth, just above US Rep. John Delaney, who actually lost followers in the past month.

Twitter Growth

Despite poor performance on Facebook, Senator Sanders has grown in popularity on Twitter, gaining 1 million new followers since April. He is followed, however, by Mayor Buttigieg and some other top performers, VP Biden, and Senators Harris and Warren.

The Future

The greatest takeaway from the 2016 Facebook Primary experiment is to expect change. Each month brings a new battery of tests for candidates, some of which are reflected on social media performance. Remember to give your favorite candidate a boost by liking their pages and using their hashtags.