• Social Media Poll: Who is leading in the 2016 race for the White House?

    by  • April 27, 2015 • Election 2016, Social Media • 0 Comments

    So who is leading the race for the White House in 2016 in the most modern poll of all?

    Hillary Clinton. Maybe.

    Hillary Clinton book cover

    Photo by Mike Mozart, from Flickr, through a Creative Commons license

    I’m speaking of the Social Media Poll, a term of my own invention, in which, on a given day, I add up the social media followers on the official Twitter and Instagram accounts of each of the four declared candidates and the number of “likes” of their official Facebook pages. I also add in how many views on YouTube each candidate pulled in for their announcement speech or video.

    Below you’ll see the candidates’ rankings from my April 23rd snapshot in time. It’s a rough measure of what the social media world calls “reach” – the potential number of people that each candidate can reach through their social media channels. Remember, these numbers change every day, this is just a snapshot in time.

    Here’s how the Social Media Poll breaks down:


    2016 Candidate Twitter followers Facebook page likes YouTube views announcement speech/video Instagram followers Total
    1. Hillary Clinton 3,410,000 753,000 328,397 2,639 4,494,036
    2. Rand Paul 605,000 1,900,000 68,384 11,700 2,585,084
    3. Ted Cruz 400,000 1,200,000 61,807 390 1,662,197
    4. Marco Rubio 729,000 808,000 30,400 11,000 1,578.400


    Clinton, at 4.4 million total followers, likes, and views, has nearly 2 million more than her next closest competitor, Sen. Rand Paul, the Republican from Kentucky. At 2.5 million followers, likes, and views, Paul has nearly a million more than Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at 1.6 million. And Marco Rubio, at 1.5 million followers, likes, and views has just 84,000 less than Cruz.

    Now, this is not a qualitative analysis of who is following the candidates and how closely; we can’t tell how many people actually read the individual posts on their social media sites, or how many clicked on them. And we can’t tell how many unique individuals are fans. A single person, for example, could be following Hillary Clinton on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But we can tell how many people were interested enough in the candidate to “like” or “favorite” a particular post, which is a measure of engagement, or intensity.


    Let’s first look at how the candidates are doing on Facebook, which is by far the most-used social media channel by Americans. The Pew Research Center reports that 71% of online American adults use Facebook, as compared with just 23% of online Americans for Twitter, and 26% for Instagram.

    Interestingly, Paul, Cruz, and Rubio have markedly higher numbers of Facebook followers than Hillary Clinton. That seems counter-intuitive because more women use Facebook than men, according to Pew, so the Republican men right now may be reaching more women than Clinton is through Facebook.

    But wait a minute. Clinton’s Facebook account is brand new; she started a new one just for her presidential campaign on or about April 10. Rand Paul’s, Ted Cruz’s and Marco Rubio’s Facebook accounts are the same ones they started in 2009 when they first started their campaigns for the U.S. Senate. They simply re-purposed and refreshed them in the past few weeks for their presidential campaigns. They came into the campaign with lots of likes already. So in a very short time, two weeks, Clinton has garnered 700,000 likes. Impressive. I predict that her users on Facebook will trend higher quickly, with so many women using that platform.

    I also looked at the popularity of individual posts on Facebook for the four candidates, starting from April 23 and going back in time an arbitrary number of 10 posts. This doesn’t take into account whether or not the post included photos or video. Posts with visuals generally do better than posts with text only.


    Facebook: Average likes per Post
    (date of entry into race)
    Clinton     5,804 (April 12)
    Paul           8,386 (April 7)
     Rubio       2,937 (April 13)
    Cruz         15,065 (March 23)


    Cruz had the most popular individual Facebook posts, followed by Paul, Clinton, and Rubio. It may not be coincidental that this order of popularity per post correlates exactly with how long each candidate has been officially in the presidential race; it may also reflect that Paul, Cruz and Rubio each have been using one Facebook account since 2009, and Clinton’s is not even a month old.



    If Rand Paul is the leader on Facebook, Clinton is a virtual powerhouse on Twitter with her 3.4 million followers. Her @HillaryClinton account has more than 5 times the followers as @RandPaul, who comes in second. She has double the Twitter followers of Paul, @tedcruz and @marcorubio combined. According to Pew, Twitter users tend to skew slightly more male, be higher educated, and younger. Some studies have shown that Twitter users lean more left than right. So her Twitter posts may be preaching to the converted, but the sheer number of her followers is huge. Plus, Clinton may have more followers on Twitter than her GOP rivals because she has no official Democratic competitor for the nomination, unlike the crowded GOP field.

    Clinton’s Twitter account is not only the biggest but the newest. She joined Twitter in April 2013. Rand Paul joined in November 2010, Cruz in March 2009, and Rubio in August 2008.

    Finally, I took my April 23rd snapshot of Tweets. I took the 10 most recent Tweets for each candidate on that day and looked at how many people “favorited” those tweets; it’s a similar measurement to the number of people on Facebook who “liked” an individual post.

    Twitter favorites, average per post
    Clinton         1,339
    Paul                 378
    Rubio                98
    Cruz              1,412


    Cruz did well here too, coming in first. But Hillary was right behind him, followed by Paul and Rubio.

    So Cruz is engaging with his followers pretty effectively on both Facebook and Twitter, but he also has been officially in the race two weeks longer than Paul, three weeks longer than Clinton and a month longer than Rubio. That may give him an edge. Or it could be that his followers are just more passionate and intense about him than the followers of the other three.



    Perhaps most important is the impressive number of people who viewed Clinton’s “Getting Started” announcement video on YouTube. Actually there’s two ways to measure this. On April 23, I looked up the video in a general search on YouTube. The version with the highest number of views that came up in the search was the ABC News version at 328,000 views, which is what I used for the above table. If you go to Clinton’s official YouTube channel, the video garnered 4.3 million views.

    To be sure, Clinton’s shrewdly short 2 1/2 minute video is far more accessible than the longer set speeches delivered by Cruz (31 minutes), Paul (27 minutes), and Rubio (19 minutes). Far fewer people will take 20 or 30 minutes out of their day to watch those videos than Hillary’s shorter video. And YouTube generally doesn’t allow videos longer than 15 minutes anyway, which is why the C-SPAN versions of the Paul, Cruz and Rubio speeches are the ones that come up in YouTube searches. C-SPAN as a verified user of YouTube can post videos longer than 15 minutes.

    But the high number of views of Clinton’s announcement video also indicates how much of a nationally- and internationally-known celebrity she is compared to the three Republicans in the race.

    Over time it will be interesting to see how these numbers change. Stay tuned to this site for more Social Media Polls.



    Patrick Pexton has been a journalist for three decades. He most recently was editor-in-chief of The Frederick News-Post, a daily newspaper and website serving Maryland's largest county by geography. He has served as the ombudsman for The Washington Post, the deputy editor of National Journal, an editor and reporter at the Military Times, and a local reporter in four states.

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