Update: In the hours since the data for this piece was pulled, Hillary Clinton’s page has garnered significant attention. In addition to continued interest from the convention, she held a live event with Tim Kaine in Pennsylvania. For the first time since June, (when she posted "Delete Your Account” ), Clinton surpassed Trump in likes to her account for the day. Check back into the Social Campaign to find out if her lead holds.
This week was supposed to be about the Democratic Party coming together and getting its presidential nominee's message out. Yet this week, Donald Trump picked up more than twice as many likes on Facebook than Hillary Clinton. As in past weeks, Clinton lags behind Trump when it comes to earning a following on social media.
Clinton did gain momentum in attracting likes, shares and comments on Facebook, the leading social media platform, this week. Her official Facebook campaign page's average interactions per post shot up from 26,398 interactions last week, before the convention, to 64,887 this week, a 43% jump during the convention. However, the rise in engagement on Clinton's Facebook page still doesn't compete with Trump's average engagement of 109,589 likes, shares and comments per post for the week, up slightly from last week and up 8% since his appearance at the Republican National Convention two weeks ago.
Data source: CrowdTangle API. Above: 'Likes' per day for each candidate's official campaign account on Facebook for the prior 60-day period ending on the date noted above. Middle: 'Shares' per day by candidate. Below: Number of posts per day to the candidate's Facebook accounts. Current week demarcated by dashed line.
In fact, as of yesterday, Trump surpassed 10 million followers on his Facebook page. Nearly double the 5.16 million followers to Clinton's page. Naturally, he posted about it:
Polls released this week show the two candidates neck and neck for the general election. So, what explains the persistent gap between Clinton and Trump on Facebook and other social media platforms?
It could be a matter of style. As Clinton herself pointedly referenced in her speech Thursday night, Trump tends to react to events and comments about him in his posts.
"A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons," she said.
Sure enough, Trump took the bait. Here's what he posted to Twitter, his favored platform, the next morning.
That kind of active, timely posting —whether it is presidential or not— typically generates engagement—particularly if it is picked up by news outlets. By contrast, Clinton's posts tend to offer less color commentary. In the few instances when she has reacted in a highly personal way in a post (such as that time she told Trump to "Delete your account" ), Clinton has seen a significant spike in engagement.
But the fact that Trump would continue to push ahead this week while the Democrats dominated the news cycle seems counterintuitive when you consider polling data, what we know about Facebook's audience and other data about the campaigns.
Let's start with polling data. CNN, The Economist with YouGov, NBC with Survey Monkey and Reuters all released fresh polling results this week. The polls show Clinton and Trump neck and neck at about 39% to 40% among likely voters in a four-way race with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. All but CNN's poll show results within the poll's margin of error. In other words, the polls suggest this is a tight race. It would be reasonable to expect to see the closeness of the race reflected in the campaigns' social media.
The results raise even more questions when you consider what we know about Facebook's audience. Unlike polling data, which attempts to survey a representative sample of the population and weight or adjust the results accordingly, social media audiences tend to be less representative of the larger population as a whole. According to a Pew Research Center's latest report on the demographics of social networking platforms, women are more likely to use Facebook than men (77% to 66%). The platform tends to skew towards younger users (82% of 18-29 year-olds compared to just 64% of 50-64 year-olds.), slightly towards more educated users (72% of those with a college degree use Facebook, compared with 71% of those with a high school degree or less) and more urban than rural (74% urban to 67% rural). These are not the groups that polling data suggest favor Trump. On a platform that skews significantly towards women, younger and more educated, urban users, you might expect to see Clinton have an edge. Yet, she doesn't.
Advertising could play a role. According to Ad Age, the Trump campaign spent $158,000 directly on Facebook ads in March, April and June based on FEC data. The campaign also spent $200,000 to buy the promoted hashtag of the day on Twitter for the final day of the convention last week. Overall, the campaign paid $1.63 million for digital ads and consulting in June, nearly four times what its rival spent in the same period according to the magazine's analysis. Then again, Ad Age found that the Clinton campaign spent more than $1.1 million in May on online advertising through its digital ad agency. Last week the Clinton campaign launched an app that let users update their Facebook profile pics with Trump-like insults. Called "Trump Yourself," it reportedly generated 800,000 unique visits the first day it went live helping the campaign connect with (and capture data) from likely voters.
Here are the posts that received the most (and least) likes and shares respectively for each candidate in the past week.
|Most Likes||Most Shared||Least Likes|
|Most Likes||Most Shared||Least Likes|
"She is still the best darn changemaker I have ever known.” —President Bill Clinton on Hillary
Posted: Wednesday July 27, 2016
Note: The Clinton campaign post that received the least likes for the week was removed or had it's privacy setting changed and is no longer available. The text is included above.
All we have to go by are public-facing numbers. While Facebook shares audience metrics with advertisers and page owners, the demographic information about the users who are liking, sharing and commenting on any given page is not publicly shared by the platform. As a result there is no way to compare the candidates' favorability on social media to demographic breakdowns we see in polling data, which could offer some insight into which groups are driving support for Trump on Facebook.
As a matter of fact, there is no way of even knowing whether the likes the candidates receive represent likes from real users. Facebook does not authenticate user accounts or limit the number of accounts a user can have on the platform. Both candidates may be boosting engagement by paying social media 'promoters' to like and comment on posts on Facebook. In April, Correct the Record, a SuperPAC supporting Clinton, announced it planned to spend $1 million to create a troll patrol—a task force of professional bloggers and communicators to respond to negative attacks against the candidate. If Trump were also boosting his social media presence it may explain why his likes for the week increased more than his share numbers, which are harder to influence.
Likes aren't votes. We get it. But it could give us insight into what's coming in November. A typical poll surveys between 800 and 1500 people while on any given day, Facebook's social media metrics capture 58% of the online (voting age) population, according to Pew. We are rapidly moving towards an era of digital citizenship. It's unlikely that decisions about this race are being made based on social media metrics, but it’s conceivable that by the time the next presidential race rolls around, social media will be the primary source of de facto real-time polling data.
Kate Stohr is a data journalist and community builder based in San Francisco, CA.