In the Final Hours of the Election, Who is Winning on Social Media?
Can social media predict the next president? In December of last year, Crowdbabble launched a series of case studies to find out.
Traditional polls are conducted by phone, with samples sizes in the thousands. With user bases in the hundreds of millions, social media networks promise a much broader reading of public opinion — with unpredictable and often inaccurate results. Do Donald Trump’s frenzied fans and followers indicate that he’ll steal the election? Or do they follow and engage only for the candidate’s entertainment value?
Here are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s final positions on social media before election day.
The aggregate social data Crowdbabble collected for the election is staggering. From January 1 to November 6, 2016, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton amassed a total following of 48,986,921 across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. On those three networks, Trump and Clinton’s posts attracted 495,120,770 engagements. Half a billion likes, comments, shares, retweets, and reactions. And most of them went to Trump.
On Facebook, Donald Trump collected a 208,099,876 Facebook engagements and 12 million Facebook fans. Hillary Clinton, who spent early 2016 fending off Bernie Sanders while Trump consolidated support, attracted 72 million engagements and 7.9 million Facebook fans. Her slick mostly image-based campaign won urban voters, but Trump’s grassroots, raw content crowdsourced from rallies was a bigger hit with his fans.
In terms of engagement, the race on Facebook has drawn particularly close over the past week. As shown in the Crowdbabble graph below, Clinton has seen an eleventh hour surge in reactions, comments, and shares.
Clinton’s lead on Facebook lasted less than 24 hours, though the engagement gap has tightened.
On Instagram, Clinton gained more followers than Trump by a hair: 2.934 million to 2.917 million, as of November 6. As with Facebook and Twitter, however, Trump saw yuge engagement.
From January 1 to November 6, Trump gathered 53 million likes and comments on Instagram to Hillary’s 31 million — almost double.
The biggest engagement gap between the candidates is on Twitter, where Trump’s stream of consciousness rage is expressed 140 characters at a time. Throughout his campaign Trump has maintained personal control of his Twitter handle, up until this week. Trump closed his campaign with 12.9 million Twitter followers; Hillary, with 10.2 million.
On Twitter, Trump stayed ahead with 89,459,006 total engagements to Hillary’s 41,572,396.
Which candidate won the election on social media? Trump and Clinton’s total followings are 24.3% apart. As of November 6, Donald Trump has 27,902,237 fans across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to Hillary Clinton’s 21,084,684.
Donald Trump is further ahead in total engagement, or the number of times people interacted with or endorsed his content on social. In total, from January 1 to November 6, Trump garnered 351 million engagements on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Hillary Clinton attracted less than half Trump’s total: 145 million.
Last Minute Scramble
But in the final week of the election, Hillary Clinton saw a boost on Facebook and Twitter. As Fox News claimed that Clinton would be indicted, her lead in the polls collapsed — and her social media followings grew at twice the rate of Trump’s.
Clinton’s Instagram page has grown rapidly over the past month. Clinton gained 124,926 followers from November 1 to 6, ahead of Trump’s 71,906 for the same period.
In the final week of the election, she also drew more supporters on Facebook. Clinton gathered an additional 257,326 fans to Trump’s 172,000. In the wake of the FBI’s revelations about new emails, the New York Times reduced Clinton’s probability of winning from 93% to 83%. Social media users rushed to support Hillary Clinton’s official pages in the final days of the election.
The last minute advance didn’t close the social gap for Clinton. Donald Trump remains ahead by 6,817,553 fans on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. What does Hillary’s final swell mean? Her rapid growth might signal that her supporters are stirring to action before voting day. Donald Trump’s slowdown could mean that his fans have already started celebrating.
Predicting the Wildcard Candidate
Crowdbabble collects data for more than 400 metrics on each social platform. Which ones can help predict election outcomes? Based on engagement rate, we incorrectly predicted that Bernie Sanders would become the Democratic nominee. In a later case study, we found a stronger correlation between total share of followers and polling percentages.
Total follower share predicted Hillary Clinton’s win in the primaries. For Clinton and Trump, social media audience share and the polls share similar parallels. Both are both split. As of November 6, Hillary has 43% of the total audience across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and will take 50% of the popular vote, according to Monmouth University. But Trump has 47% of total audience share and in the same poll is predicted to win 44% of the popular vote. Trump’s stronghold on social media is invisible to Hillary supporters, and vice versa. On Facebook and Instagram, you see more of what you like in your feed — there are no equal time laws on social media.
The margin of misinterpretation for social media data is wide and impossible to pin down. The graph below compares Crowdbabble Facebook engagement data with polling data for Hillary and Donald.
Can you spot any correlative data points?
Neither can we.
If anything, the relationship between social and polling data seems inverse: when Trump is ahead on Facebook, he’s behind in the polls. Trump scandals that damage him in the polls routinely increase his engagement on social — because his online supporters reframe campaign losses as wins.
Despite a series of scandals that broke on social, like offensive tweets and leaked tapes, through the election Trump’s following has only grown in size and fervour. Like Brexit, Trump supporters believe the businessman represents a popular revolt against the establishment (#draintheswamp). On Twitter, at his most unfiltered, Trump captures people left behind by globalization or women and minorities’ climb toward equality. His social media posts are magnetic to that demographic and his social strategy is endlessly resilient. The leaked audio of Trump making plans to date a 10 year old girl as soon as she became legal was added to his supporters’ pile of evidence of media bias.
Trump’s social media following efficiently converts downsides into upsides.
When Trump loses, he proves his outsider status in a rigged system. When Trump wins, he wins. It’s a perfect (some might say rigged) strategy. On social media, it has proven unbeatable.
Who Will Win?
More than 200 million engagements and 6 million followers ahead, catching up to Donald Trump on social media is impossible. Finding precedents and predictive patterns for Trump’s social lead is difficult: Obama’s grassroots online movement is an ineffective point of comparison — 8 years is a lifetime in social media. If the general election follows the same pattern as the primaries, the social media data collected indicates that Donald Trump be the next President. Trump’s larger audience share on social media could be an indicator of a potential win, as it was for Hillary in the primaries. Hillary’s current position — lower engagement, with an eleventh hour surge — follows Bernie’s pattern before he lost the nomination. Trump seized the Republican nomination with a similar social media lead and unpromising polling numbers behind him.
But the general election hasn’t followed the pattern of the primaries to date; counting on parallels between them will lead to inaccurate predictions.
Donald Trump has won the election on social media. Will that win put him in the White House? We’ll know for sure in less than 24 hours.
This post is part of a series on the 2016 Presidential Election. All data is as of November 6 at 3:00 PM. A follow-up piece with totals after election day will be published next week.