This year presidential candidates embraced social media as never before, posting daily across multiple channels, from Pinterest to Snapchat—a never-ending bid to get your attention, and maybe eventually your vote.
We analyzed the 152,883 posts made by the candidates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in 2015. Then we ran them through our Political Image Machine, to give you a truer picture of the presidential election.
The presidential year on social media was as at least as bizarre as it was divisive. The most commonly used phrase by all the candidates was the ever-popular (with Republicans) "radical Islamic terrorism," which turned up 146 times in candidate Facebook posts and tweets. And, of course, there were plenty of zombies, pizzas and guns to go around.
Yet for all the emoji and exclamation marks (9,205 and counting), this year's top tweet by a candidate got just 105,864 favorites. To put that in context, Justin Bieber can get 136,807 faves just for posting this. Luckily for the candidates, Bieber’s Canadian.
Next year? Expect to be bombarded by even more messages as the candidates hone their social media strategy and work to more accurately target likely voters. In other words, you.
Ben Carson: 1,153,524 likes (and counting)
We tracked the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts of each candidate, including those who have since dropped out. This post from the outsider neurosurgeon, posted Oct. 2, got the most likes of all candidate posts this year across all the platforms we tracked. Carson apparently intended it as a tribute to those killed in a mass shooting at a college in Oregon earlier that week, but this declaration of identity long outlived its original intent.
With our overall most popular post leading the pack, here are the Facebook posts that received the most likes this year. Ben Carson and Donald Trump dominated the platform.
We totaled up likes and retweets to find the most popular tweets candidates made this year. In contrast to Facebook, Hillary Clinton was the clear winner.
The biggest hits on Instagram featured Bernie Sanders, celebrities, and sometimes both. The most liked:
This tweet asked the most questions out of any that we saw. (Pedantic note: If a tweet had several question marks in a row, we only counted that as one.)
Two tweets tied for most emphatic. As with the question marks above, we counted repeated exclamation points the same as a single one. Here's what the candidates were excited about.
Behold: Every emoji the candidates used on Twitter this year. Want to see why Chris Christie was tweeting a bikini? Click any emoji to see its context.
Joe Biden ♥
Ben Carson 🇺🇸
We searched for the three-word phrases used most frequently by each of the candidates across all their social media feeds. Hillary fan? Stop by her shop to get your own "custom state tee."
Bobby Jindal: "sanctuary city leaders"
Jeb Bush: "radical islamic terrorism"
Hillary Clinton: "custom state tee"
Donald Trump: "Saturday night live"
Lincoln Chafee: "Iowa state fair"
Mike Huckabee: "kill common core"
Carly Fiorina: "FEC fundraising deadline"
Jim Gilmore: "national security forum"
John Kasich: "balanced budget amendment"
Rand Paul: "contribution of 20.16"
Lindsey Graham: "town hall meeting"
Rick Perry: "president Barack Obama"
Chris Christie: "town hall live"
Ben Carson: "debate watch party"
Marco Rubio: "american century click"
Jim Webb: "criminal justice reform"
Bernie Sanders: "program watch live"
Ted Cruz: "radical islamic terrorism"
George Pataki: "wild Irish breakfast"
Rick Santorum: "Tuesday March 24"
Martin O'Malley: "debt free college"
Scott Walker: "government special interests"
Daniel McLaughlin is a creative technologist exploring the 2016 presidential election. Before joining Fusion, Daniel worked at the Boston Globe and graduated from MIT with a BS in urban studies and planning.
Kate Stohr is a data journalist and community builder based in San Francisco, CA.