Which Candidate Earned the Most Social Media Followers after the New Hampshire Democratic Debate?

I did not have a chance to see the New Hampshire Democratic Debate and it seems that the candidates did not make any major mistakes. FiveThirtyEight, working with Ipsos, interviewed, voters before and after the debate and the results are quite interesting. Respondents were asked to rate each participants’ debate performance. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar were at the top of the list, followed by Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden. At the end of the list were Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang – in that order. 

The goal of the debates is to help voters decide who to support in the upcoming primaries and caucuses. The FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey can help us understand whether the candidates’ debate performance affected respondents’ voting choices. Figure 1 summarizes these findings. 

Most of the candidates’ performances convinced some voters to give them a second look. Yang’s numbers were basically flat, while Biden’s decline should be seen as one more signal that his campaign is in some trouble. 

For the past year, I have been collecting data on each candidates’ number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Campaigns need to build their social media followings to accomplish at least four important goals: (1) communicate their ideas, (2) promote their events; (3) request financial support; and (4) to get out the vote. More savvy campaigns also analyze followers’ comments to evaluate the effectiveness of their social media strategies.

Even though social media platforms are not representative of the United States public, the Pew Research Center finds that at least 72% of Americans use “some type of social media” and Facebook is currently the “most-widely used” platform.

Thus, I assume that political campaigns want to grow their social media followings and noteworthy events, such as debates, should help these campaigns attract new followers and keep existing ones.

Which of the candidates who participated in the debate attracted the highest number of new followers? 

I collected the number of followers on each platform a few hours before the debate and 14 hours after. Rather than reporting each candidate’s number of new followers. I calculate the increase as a percentage of their post-debate total. Figure 2 summarizes the Facebook statistics, which includes two measures “page likes” and “page follows”.

Figure 3 describes the percent increase in Instagram followers and figure 4 summarizes the statistics for Twitter followers. 

Although the growth patterns in each social media platform are different, the graphs echo some of the FiveThirtyEight-Ipsos’ survey. Klobuchar is the big winner in the three platforms, while Buttigieg comes in second. While it seems unlikely that Klobuchar will win the New Hampshire primary, her growing popularity may weaken Biden’s support and halt Buttigieg’s gains. Yang’s and Steyer’s increasing followers, especially on Twitter and Instagram, suggest that people want to learn more about their views.

While it is difficult to make sense of Sanders’ and Warren’s modest growth, the figures indicate that Biden’s campaign is in trouble. He lost followers on Instagram, while his gains in the other two platforms were at best anemic. Biden is no longer the front-runner and his presidential hopes seem to be fading.

Can the number of each candidates’ social media followers tell us something about their popularity and their campaign’s strength? This is one of the questions that informs my current research. But it seems that at first glance the findings of the FiveThirtyEight-Ipsos’ survey are in line with the amount of followers each of the participants gained 14 hours after the debate.