Apr.07

John Kasich vs. the World: Candidate’s Odd Catch-Up Strategy Might Just Work

The New York Times has called him “the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race.” The polls have called him third place candidate, well behind Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

John Kasich is the old guard’s favourite for the Republican nomination, due to his right-wing ideals, relative sanity, and Republican insider status. Unlike Trump, Kasich is a career politician with decades of experience in office. And he hasn’t mentioned anything about a wall. He’s 600 delegates behind Trump, but Kasich hasn’t bowed out.

Can Kasich catch up?

Picking Up Speed

Like Ted Cruz, John Kasich has spent most of his offensive energy on one candidate: Donald Trump. Kasich succeeds with his fans and followers when he tears down the frontrunner or relays campaign wins. As Kasich told The New York Times, “I’ve talked about hope and the future and positive things.”

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As you  can see from the above Crowdbabble table made, Kasich’s top Facebook post declares victory after a big win. Sorting the table by highest engaging to lowest, it’s clear that his recent social wins span just a few days: March 15 to March 17, when his campaign was building momentum.

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This month, in a strategic shift, Cruz began airing attack ads aiming to force Kasich out of the race. In a race that looks increasingly impossible to win, Kasich’s social media following responds best to good news.

As Trump has amassed more delegates, Kasich’s content strategy hasn’t been as successful. On Twitter, his least engaging tweets are concentrated in the days following his streak of social wins.

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With under 200 replies, retweets, or favourites, Kasich’s strategy hit a slump in the face of big Trump wins. The Crowdbabble table above shows that an update mentioning Reagan was his lowest-performing of the time period.

Team Kasich’s most recent Facebook update on April 6 gained 3,500 likes and 597 shares by returning to the positive: the opportunity for an open convention, which Kasich might have a shot at winning. In an open or brokered convention, no candidate has enough delegates to declare a majority and the nomination is decided after re-votes. Followers responded when Kasich held out this possibility in the post and painted the race as far from over: “With no candidate gaining a majority of delegates and an open convention a near certainty, the choice is clear. John Kasich.” Those are the words of an underdog.

Stumped by Trump

Kasich is well behind Trump in terms of engagement per post on Facebook and Twitter. His high of 29,951 engagements per Facebook post is nowhere near Trump’s peak on either platform. Below, their recent top posts, found in Crowdbabble:

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The candidates’ messages couldn’t be more different. Kasich has a catch-up strategy focused on his victories. Trump, in contrast, is focused on turning losses (like violent protests) into rallying cries for his fanbase. He uses unconventional messages to emphasize his outsider, rogue status. Trump’s more aggressive social voice, coupled with his larger follower base, gave his update 10 times the engagement of Kasich’s top post.

As of April 7 2016, across Facebook and Twitter Kasich has 559,223 fans and followers. Donald Trump has 14,401,624. What portion of those millions are following for entertainment is unknown, but all followers — ironic or not — have helped Donald Trump succeed on social media. Donald Trump has a larger social audience than any other candidate, just ahead of Hillary Clinton.

The Few, the Enthusiastic 

John Kasich’s audience is almost as engaged as Trump’s. Over the past month on Facebook, Kasich has an engagement rate of 259.6%. Trump is ahead with an engagement rate of 343% on the same platform.

As a result, Kasich’s page likes have increased 20% over the past month. The Crowdbabble graph below shows that total page likes have gone from the low 200s to more than 280,000 since March 6.

John Kasich page likes on Facebook

Growth rates on Facebook are deflating for both candidates; there might not be that many undecided voters left to win. But Trump is slowing down faster. His fanbase on Facebook grew by just 11% over the past month.

Even at a lower growth rate, Trump’s total number of fans and followers will stay larger than Kasich’s — no matter how long Kasich stays in the race.

Kasich’s fanbase has more momentum. The Crowdbabble graph below shows Donald Trump’s total likes, comments, and shares on Facebook over the past month. The more the Donald posts, the higher his engagement — but he hasn’t posted as often in April.

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Trump’s engagement rate on Facebook has slid from a high of 1.5 million engagements in mid-March to a low this week. Now that his candidacy is no longer viewed as an elaborate prank or freak accident, perhaps fans who shared his content ironically are backing away.

Can Kasich Beat a Rogue Candidate?

Social signals are often in sync with polling numbers. Engagement rate, in particular, can  indicate how fired up a candidate’s base is. Engaged followers with a high level of enthusiasm, and enough influence to spread that enthusiasm, are key to running a winning campaign on social media… and to converting followers into voters in the primaries. Looking at Twitter and Facebook, can Team Kasich compete with Trump’s legions of far-right followers?

At this point, John Kasich is a snowball in hell. If hell freezes over and his follower growth rate skyrockets, he might have a chance at beating Trump on social media and in the voting booth.

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In this race, no candidate is off the table. A nomination for Kasich might not be so impossible: if Trump’s engagement continues to fall and Kasich’s keeps accelerating, the online momentum could push Kasich forward in key remaining states.

It might be too late, but Kasich’s followers and fans are fired up.

All data visualizations made in Crowdbabble. This post is part of a series on the 2016 Presidential Election, which you can find here.