Nowadays the Presidential campaign trail extends to the internet. You gotta kiss a few Facebook babies, glad-hand a bunch of Twitter accounts, and court the Instagram vote if you want to make it to the White House.
Social media has become a key battleground in the 2016 presidential race, with candidates of both parties employing Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to appeal directly to constituents, humanize themselves, and curry favor with young voters. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of registered voters following elected officials , political parties and candidates for office shot up from 10 to 16 percent, according to a report from Pew Research Center. That number is undoubtedly even higher today.
Instagram, which didn't yet exist in the 2008 election and hardly factored into 2012, may be the most interesting social media platform of the 2016 election cycle. It's the place where politicians go to make personal appeals to voters and to share a little bit of themselves, albeit through Instagram's ever-flattering filters.
So with the help of the Insta-famous Lillie Hymowitz (@lillievehymo), Peter Alden (@imnotathirdwheel) and Natalie Amrossi (@misshattan), we decided to offer the candidates a helpful critique of their Instagram accounts. We've ranked the five best and worst below.
1. DONALD TRUMP
JOINED: 2013 // POSTS: 304 // FOLLOWERS: 498k // FOLLOWING: 8
Even though the Republican Party's leading presidential candidate hasn't mastered the art of Instagram filters, his Instagram account, unsurprisingly, is full of classic Trump crassness and peppered with humor. "He speaks his mind, in a rather funny, honest and public way, which I love," Hymowitz, a Manhattan teen who New York Magazine named the "prom queen of Instagram. She said it was the only account she actually followed after looking at all of the candidate's pages. Amrossi and Alden agreed that it was among the most entertaining. "I mean… it's Trump," said Alden, famous on Instagram for his photos of being a third wheel. "Clearly he is very savvy with the media."
JOINED: 2015 // POSTS: 201 // FOLLOWERS: 433k // FOLLOWING: 2
The leading Democratic Party's candidate is also winning among her competitors on Instagram. With celebrity account takeovers by popstar Katy Perry, puppies and some pretty epic #tbt photos of Bill and Hill, Clinton has mastered the language of Instagram more than any other candidate. At moments, it's even extremely funny.
But as Alden points out, Clinton's Instagram presence "doesn't feel natural or personal."
Most of her account's photos are of Clinton herself, supporters or arty campaign logo shots. It's pretty and fun, but it feels like an ad, not an attempt by a candidate to connect. For Clinton, who is often accused of being too rigid and business-like, this seems like a missed opportunity.
JOINED: 2015 // POSTS: 74 // FOLLOWERS: 327k // FOLLOWING: 82
Democrat candidate Sanders, who is trailing Clinton in the polls, is also trailing her on Instagram, mainly because he just hasn't posted that much. Hymowitz gives Bernie extra points for clever captions, but months into the election cycle he still hasn't yet broken 100 posts. The content on Sanders' Instagram can tends toward the expected, but at least we get a sense that Sanders likes to have a good time, whether it's dancing with Ellen or hanging with Doc Brown on Back to the Future Day.
4. JEB BUSH
JOINED: 2015 // POSTS: 146 // FOLLOWERS: 40.3k // FOLLOWING: 1,224
Republican hopeful Jeb Bush has certainly sought to use Instagram the most strategically — he announced his Super PAC, Right To Rise, on Instagram and his account is filled with photos meant to build a personal relationship with voters, images of sunrises, and missed baseball games and birthday messages to Daddy George.
It's "not only about him and the election, but also about his day-to-day point of views," said Hymowitz. "It makes his account different from the rest."
5. SCOTT WALKER
JOINED: 2013 // POSTS: 20 // FOLLOWERS: 835 // FOLLOWING: 9
He may have dropped out, but the polarizing Republican governor of Wisconsin still has a prolific Instagram presence compared to other candidates. He's mastered the art of balancing shiny political appeals with personal photos like this one of a sad slice of airport pizza, signed with his initials to signify it really came from him. "It shows different sides of him and behind the scenes," said Hymowitz. She said the behind the scenes view makes a perfect appeal to teens. "It's funny and interesting even for teens that don’t focus so much on the election."
JOINED: 2015 // POSTS: 460 // FOLLOWERS: 19.6k // FOLLOWING: 92
Okay, time for some real talk here: Pataki's Instagram presence could use some help. With only 20 posts, the former Republican New York governor's account is a weird amalgam of blurry campaign trail photos, Trump takedowns and Worldcup fan posts. Since it's not verified, we're not even totally convinced it's Pataki's real account.
"It's feels like this could be a fan page or an account that he had no clue existed," said Alden.
"His last post was 15 weeks ago. That says enough," Hymowitz said.
2. TED CRUZ
JOINED: 2015 // POSTS: 140 // FOLLOWERS: 7,697 // FOLLOWING: 68
This Republican candidate's account got panned by our judges. An awful lot of Cruz's Instagram is campaign poster-style images of him overlaid with quotes.
"Kind of boring," said Alden. "Clearly someone else is handling this account."
3. RAND PAUL
JOINED: 2013 // POSTS: 304 // FOLLOWERS: 42.9k // FOLLOWING: 55
The tech-savvy Republican candidate isn't savvy when it comes to Instagram. Our judges suggest cooling it with all the inspirational quotes.
4. BEN CARSON
JOINED: 2014 // POSTS: 195 // FOLLOWERS: 132k // FOLLOWING: 0
The Republican doctor's account, said Alden, was "clearly only created because other candidates have Instagram accounts." His account is all campaign trail babies, pleas to follow him on other social media and a bizarre amount of numbers and statistics for a network like Instagram. Hymowitz said it lacked "rawness."
A photo posted by Martin O'Malley (@martinomalley) on Oct 6, 2015 at 3:54pm PDT
JOINED: 2013 // POSTS: 108 // FOLLOWERS: 6,660 // FOLLOWING: 145
Honestly, we're not sure whether he's campaigning for President or to be our personal trainer. But it did work. Voters clearly think the Democrat candidate is hot.