The US has just under 241 million voters eligible to decide on their country’s political future on 8 November. With most polls putting Hillary Clinton ahead of her outspoken adversary, despite the FBI’s renewed investigation into her emails, many Democratic supporters could be forgiven for being cautiously optimistic of victory.
But as the UK learned in the EU Referendum, opinion polls don’t always tell the whole story. Social data for the Leave and Remain camps show Leave was winning on social right up to the voting deadline – and we all know how that turned out.
Trump and Clinton’s social followings equate to 12% and 9% of the eligible US electorate respectively. In other words, even if you took out everyone who won’t be able or willing to vote on 8 November (not the 28th), social data still reflect a wider proportion of the electorate than a typical opinion poll sample of a thousand people.
We Are Social analysed the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts for the official Clinton and Trump campaigns for the month leading up to 1 November – a week ahead of polling day. Unhappily for Clinton, the social data tell a very different story than the official polls. On social, Trump is miles ahead.
Social data still reflect a wider proportion of the electorate than a typical opinion poll sample of a thousand people.
Both candidates have incredibly strong social presences. But at the time of writing, Trump has 27.6 million followers overall, a significant lead on Clinton’s 20.7 million.
And that’s not all. Trump doesn’t just lead in terms of his social audience size. In fact, the Republican candidate leads on every topline social metric – quantity of posting, social interactions, positive interactions and sharing.
At a basic level, Trump is more active. In the past thirty days, he posted 931 times across his social accounts, a tiny amount more than Clinton’s 919 times.
Most posts, by both sides, reminded people to watch (or re-watch) the TV debates, while others claimed debate victory or played punchy cut-down video segments. This was reflected in the most used hashtags in the last month – #Debate, #Debates and #VPDebate.
But Trump’s slight lead in posting quantity doesn’t explain his vast lead in follower numbers. Turning to social interactions, it is clear that the Republican candidate’s posts are far more engaged-with than Clinton’s.
He eclipses his rival in terms of interactions, including likes, comments, reactions and shares, clocking up 72.4 million engagements over the past thirty days. More than double Clinton’s 33.6 million engagements.
However, Trump has managed to generate more engagement through overwhelmingly negative content. Most of his posts consist of a relentless assault on his opponent – whom he almost always calls #CrookedHillary or a criminal – and all those he thinks are against him, particularly mainstream media.
By contrast, Clinton has been more positive on social, celebrating "winning" the three television debates, or calling on her supporters to feel pride in their support of her.
In short, more people have engaged with Trump’s negativity than Clinton’s higher-minded positivity.
Of course, there are plenty of vociferous Trump haters, trolling him whenever he speaks. But despite his enemies, including prominent Republicans, Trump gained 51.3 million likes or loves of his social posts in the past month – almost double Clinton’s 25.8 million.
Moreover, his content was shared 11.6 million times, again double the 5.16 million times for his rival. Plainly, most of Trump’s followers do not denigrate him. He is positively cheered on by vast numbers – in spite of all of his follies, missteps and u-turns.
There are some bright spots for Clinton however. In the past month, she has attracted a larger percentage of new social followers (+13.3%) than Trump (+8.13%). Her most engaged-with content during this time attacked Trump directly, particularly for his attitude towards women. Negative campaigning clearly works.
Of course, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Trump’s superior social media performance will equate to electoral success. Clinton’s campaign team must be hoping there’s no correlation or that it hasn’t left the recent uplift in followers and engagement, generated by attacks on Trump’s character, too late.
All data sourced through We Are Social’s social media listening tools.
Andre van Loon is the research and insight director at We Are Social.