The Twitter Election
With the 2016 election creeping up, Americans are racing to decide who should be the next leader of the nation. But how are they getting the information to make an educated decision?
A study conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that in January 2016, 44% of American adults said that they had learned something in the past week about the presidential election from social media. What about younger generations not included in the study?
A survey sent out to the Durham Academy Upper School found that only about 26% of the student body follow a presidential candidate on social media, and 29.4% of the student body would never follow a presidential candidate. Still, “It’s a smart way to reach out to youth,” said one student. Another student agreed. “It helps them connect with young people who don’t read the newspaper or do extra research about candidates,” they said. Sure enough, about 35% of the students surveyed said that they would follow a candidate to learn about their policies.
After studying three consecutive weeks of both candidates’ posts in May 2016, Pew Research Center found that Donald Trump topped Hillary Clinton both in the amount of followers and the amount of reactions he got on a single Facebook or Twitter post (reactions include liking, comments, and reposts/retweets). On average, he received about 76,885 reactions per Facebook post compared to Clinton’s 31,830. While posting just as frequently as Clinton, Trump receives far more attention.
“Social media is an incredible resource to politicians. A smart presidential candidate would be sure to use social media carefully and effectively,” one student commented.
Candidates’ social media strategies can differ greatly. For example, Pew found that Clinton occasionally posted in Spanish, something Trump has never done, suggesting they target different audiences. External links are also very telling. In those same three weeks, about 78% of Trump’s external links in Facebook posts link to news media sites, while 80% of Clinton’s link to her campaign’s donation or volunteer sites. And whereas Clinton most frequently retweeted other accounts linked to her campaign such as Hillary for America, Trump retweeted comments posted by the general public.
“Some of the posts have been quite revealing of character,” one student noticed. Both candidates mentioned each other over 30 times in the three weeks. However, while Clinton referred to Trump 13 times using the @-mention function, leading the reader directly to Trump’s account, none of Trump’s references to Clinton used the @-mention function. Instead, about 84% of those posts refer to her as “Crooked Hillary.”
While many students (about 48%) say that a candidate’s being strong on social media is important, about 37% feel that their resources could be better used elsewhere. One student pointed out that “social media is not important to the election because congressional relations and foreign policy negotiations are conducted in person.” Another student agreed: “Social media draws the public away from focusing on substantive issues.”
Whether the social media policy of candidates ultimately helps or hurts them, the public can learn a lot about the candidate by observing their actions on social media to make a more educated decision on whom to choose for president.
As one student saw it, “Social media is one of the most effective ways to communicate in this generation. It helps us formulate unique opinions and view the election from a different standpoint.”