There’s no participation award for losing the Republican nomination to a reality TV star. In an unprecedented race, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich couldn’t stump the Trump, despite their efforts on the ground and online.
With hundreds of posts, the three runners-up pushed hard for higher engagement and more followers on social media—hoping it would translate into votes. But Trump won in the primaries and on the Internet, with 16.5 million followers across the three largest platforms: more than Bush, Cruz, and Kasich combined.
What happens to losers on social media? And will Bush, Cruz, and Kasich wallow, or rally around the winner?
Et Tu, Facebook Fans?
In terms of followers, it’s not a question of which unfortunate candidate is in decline: it’s who is worse off. Having lost hope, non-Trump fans have started to unlike and unfollow their preferred candidates. When abandoning support for a campaign is as easy as one click to unlike, it seems that loyalty is fleeting.
Over the past five months, Ted Cruz experienced steep growth in Facebook fans. He reached almost 1 million page likes at his peak.
Cruz’s social media audience peaked on May 4, with a brief rise before the fan erosion began. Since May 4, Cruz has lost more than 1,000 former supporters on Facebook.
For Kasich, fan growth and decline were both slower, as shown in the Crowdbabble graph below.
Perhaps fewer of Kasich’s fans liked his Facebook Page to back him as the Republican frontrunner, so fewer of them were eager to unlike when his campaign ended.
Since April 16, Kasich’s Facebook fanbase has remained stable: his number of fans has grown by a slight 1.6%. This is despite the fact that Kasich’s Facebook team appears to have given up. Preferring to keep his Facebook page as a mausoleum of broken dreams rather than an active page, Kasich now goes days without posting.
The number of posts by Kasich has plummeted since Trump took the nomination, and as a result, engagement has suffered.
As shown above, Kasich’s page posts have been in steep decline since April. Engagement, shown by the bars, has also gone down (there is little new content to like, comment on, or share). Cruz, on the other had, has used his Facebook page to share updates on his work in congress—using the large audience he won during his campaign to his advantage.
The decline for both Cruz and Kasich began in May, as Trump gained steam (and social media followers). From May 5 onwards, Cruz’s fair-weather fans began to flee. Zooming in on his Facebook fan growth with Crowdbabble, the correlation between Trump’s rise and Cruz’s demise becomes more obvious.
The decline in fans has been steep, and total likes have below the number Cruz had a month ago.
Like Cruz, Jeb Bush experienced the fastest growth in Facebook fans at the beginning of the race. His strategy on Facebook was simple and effective: images of key campaign issues with punchy captions that spoke to his conservative fanbase. The gun picture below was one of Bush’s most liked, commented on, and shared posts for the duration of his campaign.
The success of his unique strategy was shortlived. As shown in the Crowdbabble graph below of Page Likes from January 16 to May 16, Jeb Bush plateaued early.
Growth for the candidate slowed dramatically in March 2016, when he canceled his campaign and endorsed Ted Cruz for President. Bush, like Cruz, also experienced an uptick in mid-May before audience erosion began—a much stronger one.
Where are all of Bush, Cruz, and Kasich’s followers going?
Stump the Drumpf
Donald Trump’s growth on social media has been explosive over the past two months, overtaking Hillary Clinton as the candidate with the largest social media audience. Trump now has 16.5 million followers across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; Hillary has 10.5 million.
The Crowdbabble graph above shows strong growth in Facebook fans that has continued while the fanbases of Bush, Cruz, and Kasich have contracted. The biggest surge in new fans occurred on May 5, when he gained 163,429 Facebook fans in a single day. His jump in fans on May 5 was likely aided by the spike in shares on that day of a post that was lampooned in the news media.
Though many on Facebook might have been sharing his content in order to mock it, the effect on Trump’s social media audience was positive. 489,485 people shared the taco bowl post on May 5th, generating millions of impressions — and likely contributing to his biggest leap in followers yet.
Now that Trump has the nomination, his aggressive social media efforts have eased slightly. Like the candidates he beat, Trump is posting less on Facebook than he did earlier in the nomination race. The line in the graph below shows Trump’s number of posts each day from January 16 to May 16, 2016.
Engagement, as a result, is also down. This may be a lull before Trump launches his strategy to battle for the presidency as the official Republican nominee, when he’ll take on Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
Begrudging, Reluctant, Cringing Support
The three candidates expended much more effort pushing their own campaigns on social media than they have supporting Trump. Jeb Bush is the only one of the three candidates to lean into the Trump nomination with an official endorsement on Facebook. Since the below post on May 6, Jeb Bush’s Facebook page has had no more updates.
With the endorsement of Trump, Jeb Bush enjoyed a brief uptick in fans by about 2,000—until the following week, when about 2,000 left. Was the post sincere? Can Jeb and the other losing candidates be counted on to rally around Trump?
Jeb Bush(‘s team) has posted to Facebook just twice over the past month, in the form of two endorsements: one for Donald Trump, and one for Ted Cruz. Jeb’s endorsement of Cruz on March 23 signalled the end of his campaign. In the March 23 post, Jeb slammed the Donald: “we must overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena or we will certainly lose our chance to defeat the Democratic nominee.” One might speculate that Jeb’s later Facebook endorsement of Trump is as unenthusiastic as his social media efforts to support Trump have been.
Kasich and Cruz seem even more reluctant to surrender. John Kasich hasn’t mentioned Trump on Facebook since he suspended his campaign on May 4, and may be the only losing candidate to keep his growth on the platform steady as a result. Cruz, after a lull in his posts after suspending his campaign, has also chosen not to endorse Trump on social media. Overall, okay would be a strong word for how Bush, Cruz, and Kasich can bring themselves to publicly feel about the presumed Republican nominee.
With declining followings and infrequent posts, the three losing candidates might not be capable — or interested — in helping the outsider nominee become number 45.