How the 2016 Presidential Election Will Be Won on Social Media
News Social media has made politicians more accountable and more accessible. In 2016, candidates need to reach voters where they spend the most time—online.
Donald Trump has gained more than 380,000 new Twitter followers in the past two months.
In a Fox News poll released May 13, Trump placed ninth among possible Republican presidential nominees, behind Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and Ted Cruz. On July 17, an update of the same poll showed Trump in first place with a solid 3-point lead over Walker, a surge that tracks closely with The Donald’s popularity growth on Twitter.
A targeted approach
American voters are increasingly connected—to each other and to their favorite candidates—through technology. The 2012 election was hailed as a victory won through social media savvy, targeted fundraising appeals and an understanding of the smartphone generation.
But four years ago, only 35 percent of Americans owned a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center. Now 64 percent do, a penetration rate that will likely see a substantial increase before November 2016.
In 2008, shortly after his historic win, President-elect Barack Obama posted a victory tweet. According to Daniel Kreiss, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, only 157 people retweeted it, a response that seems impossibly quaint today.
"Of the top 50 digital news outlets, 39 now receive more traffic from mobile devices than desktops."
That’s partly due to a shift to mobile news consumption. Of the top 50 digital news outlets, 39 now receive more traffic from mobile devices than desktops, according to comScore. But those mobile viewers also spend less time on the site—a brief window of opportunity best harnessed by the compact storytelling common on social media. Nearly 40 percent of Americans get news about politics and the government from Facebook, according to Pew. More than two-thirds of smartphone owners use their device to follow breaking news coverage—a practice that highlights gaffes like the “47 percent” and “legitimate rape” comments from the 2012 cycle.
But candidates are learning. Long before she officially announced she was running for president, Hillary Clinton amassed a huge following on social media. She’s currently just shy of 4 million Twitter followers and has gained even more of them than Trump over the last two months—397,000, an increase of 10.2 percent
While Clinton’s raw numbers are higher, Bernie Sanders has increased his Twitter following by 30.46 percent over the same period, according to an analysis by Mediaplanet of data obtained through TwitterCounter. When the Trump wave subsides, the Republicans will probably be left to choose between Bush, who’s seen a 19.39 percent jump on Twitter, and Walker, with 17.88 percent. Trump is at 11.59 percent, while the other GOP candidates with any shot at the nomination are sitting at single digit growth.
Expect more nano-targeted ads this election cycle, particularly on mobile devices. The candidates know where you are, and they’re coming for you.