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PEORIA Project Report: #WeCouldHaveSeenThemComing

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Closer scrutiny of data from the social network Twitter would have helped to diagnose and predict the rise of the two outsider candidates in the 2016 presidential election, businessman Donald Trump and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, according to a new Public Echoes Of Rhetoric In America (PEORIA) Project report.

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PEORIA Project Report: #WeCouldHaveSeenThemComing

  1. 1. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update #WeCouldHaveSeenThemComing Trump, Sanders, and the undervalued metrics of Twitter followers and engagement
  2. 2. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update Table of Contents • Introduction: Two Puzzles • Findings 1. A Twitter following is a campaign asset from day one 2. Growth rates in Twitter followings provide actionable evidence of campaign strength and weakness 3. Engagement metrics, especially retweets, provide a second dimension of campaign intelligence apart from follower metrics 4. The potential power of Twitter lives on past the end of campaigns. 5. A hashtag is not the equivalent to a following or engagement activities. • Conclusion 2
  3. 3. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update Key Takeaways • Twitter followers were an early asset for both presumptive nominees, providing lessons for future candidates and observers. • Donald Trump’s opening lead in Twitter followers previewed his quick rise in the polls over the Jeb Bush and the field. • Bernie Sanders’ edge in engagement helped narrow the gap with Hillary Clinton. • The number of followers continues to grow after campaigns suspend, foreshadowing potential strength in future races. • Hashtags are moments, not campaigns. 3
  4. 4. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update 4 Two Puzzles How did Trump win? How did Sanders get so close? 0 2,000,000 4,000,000 6,000,000 8,000,000 10,000,000 3/23/15 4/23/15 5/23/15 6/23/15 7/23/15 8/23/15 9/23/15 10/23/15 11/23/15 12/23/15 1/23/16 2/23/16 3/23/16 4/23/16 Cruz Clinton Rubio Carson Sanders Bush Trump Kasich Linear (Clinton) Linear (Sanders) Linear (Trump) • Trump announced on June 16, one day after Jeb Bush, who led the field with only 10.8% while Trump was a non-factor. By July 20, Trump had taken a small lead over Bush (16.8% to 14.8%), which he held except for three days in November when he was tied with Ben Carson. • Though never overtaking Clinton, Sanders narrowed the gap to within 1% on April 13 before it began to widen again after the Brooklyn debate the next night.
  5. 5. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update 5 • Clinton’s early lead in followers, which she maintained through the Indiana primary, is not reflected in the polling. • Though never overtaking Clinton, Sanders narrowed the gap to within 1% on April 13 before it began to widen again after the Brooklyn debate the next night. • Growth in Twitter followers alone, therefore, is not sufficient to explain the narrowing race between Clinton and Sanders. A Narrowing Race Democratic Nomination Polling Averages: Candidate Announcements – Indiana Primaries
  6. 6. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update 6 • Both Clinton and Trump had significant early advantages over their respective fields, leading to higher name ID and potential support. • Bernie Sanders opened with little more than half the followers of John Kasich but vaulted to third overall during the campaign. Opening Followers From Candidate Announcements NAME ANNOUNCEMENT FOLLOWERS THAT DAY Ted Cruz 3/23/15 371,742 Hillary Clinton 4/12/15 3,208,701 Marco Rubio 4/13/15 706,910 Ben Carson 5/4/15 330,441 Bernie Sanders 5/26/15 41,732 Jeb Bush 6/15/15 198,340 Donald Trump 6/16/15 2,997,242 John Kasich 7/21/15 75,445
  7. 7. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update 7 • From the beginning of their campaigns, both Clinton and Trump had millions more followers than other candidates, an indication of early strength that foretold the challenge rivals faced. • While both were well-known, Trump began the campaign well behind Clinton in followers but passed her in mid-October, growing at a much faster rate. • The only other candidate to become a threat to this dominance was Sanders but he grew at the same rate as Clinton, never able to close the gap. Cruz and Kasich never gained more followers than Carson and Rubio. Valuable Asset Twitter Follower Growth: Candidate Announcements – Indiana Primaries 0 1,000,000 2,000,000 3,000,000 4,000,000 5,000,000 6,000,000 7,000,000 8,000,000 9,000,000 Cruz Clinton Rubio Carson Sanders Bush Trump Kasich Linear (Clinton) Linear (Sanders) Linear (Trump)
  8. 8. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update 8 • Trump dominated his rivals in total engagement, defined by Crimson Hexagon as a combination of retweets, replies and mentions. • Clinton and Sanders were closer in terms of total engagement, which varied on who was ahead during the campaign. Highly Engaged Total Engagement Share: Candidate Announcements – Indiana Primaries 73% 15% 5% 3% 2%2% Republicans 38.5 trillion potential impressions Trump Cruz Rubio Carson Bush Kasich 61% 39% Democrats 21.4 trillion potential impressions Clinton Sanders
  9. 9. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update 9 • One possible reason for the of polls is the stronger echo of Sanders’s messaging on Twitter. Retweets are copies of what a candidate’s account posted, which can be viewed as a measure of engagement or enthusiasm. • Sanders consistently outperformed Clinton on retweets, which are copies of what a candidate’s account posted. It is the clearest measure of candidate engagement on the platform – a direct echo. • Moreover, Sanders earned more peaks in retweets than Clinton, suggesting he was able to negate his followers deficit with more engagement and enthusiasm, perhaps narrowing Powerful Echoes Number of Twitter Retweets: Candidate Announcements – Indiana Primaries 0 20000 40000 60000 80000 100000 120000 140000 160000 180000 Cruz Clinton Rubio Carson Sanders Bush Trump Kasich
  10. 10. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update 10 Staying Power Suspensions, Followers, and Engagement: Candidate Announcements – Indiana Primaries 0 200,000 400,000 600,000 800,000 1,000,000 1,200,000 1,400,000 1,600,000 3/23/15 4/23/15 5/23/15 6/23/15 7/23/15 8/23/15 9/23/15 10/23/15 11/23/15 12/23/15 1/23/16 2/23/16 3/23/16 4/23/16 Twitter Follower Growth - Suspended Camapigns Candidate Announcements - Indiana Primaries Rubio Carson Bush 0 50000 100000 150000 200000 250000 3/23/15 4/23/15 5/23/15 6/23/15 7/23/15 8/23/15 9/23/15 10/23/15 11/23/15 12/23/15 1/23/16 2/23/16 3/23/16 4/23/16 Total Engagementon Twitter - Suspended Campaigns Candidate Announcements - Indiana Primaries Rubio Carson Bush • Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush gained followers after suspending their campaigns. • While suspended campaigns lose total engagement (retweets + mentions + replies), we believe followers could reactivate it with a new candidacy.
  11. 11. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update 11 • Donald Trump’s run to the nomination was widely underestimated by other candidates, observers, and many voters. The strongest effort to stop him was reflected in the #NeverTrump Twitter hashtag, but it was too late. • Reaction to Trump’s victory in the South Carolina primary and the Michigan debate helped fuel the #NeverTrump hashtag which was included in well over 500k posts. • The #NeverTrump hashtag never became a campaign due to lack of a candidate to own it; it had one more moment at the end of the campaign with 141,659 posts on the day of the Indiana primary, a last gasp. Hashtags ≠ Campaigns The Cautionary Tale of #NeverTrump
  12. 12. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update Recommendations • Never underestimate an opponent’s Twitter followers. They should be viewed in terms of name identification and potential audience. • Engaging followers can help drive public support. While the number of followers matters, high engagement can narrow a gap in polls. • Twitter can be an asset for future candidacies. Even post-suspension, presidential candidate accounts still gain followers while engagement goes dormant. 12
  13. 13. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update Future Research • Impact of partisan engagement: Not all followers are supporters and not all retweets, replies, and mentions are endorsements. We will conduct further analysis on the partisan leanings of followers and tweets to determine if the mix is related to polling movement. • Analysis of Twitter content: While volume matters, what is said may matter even more. We will be looking at which words and phrases drove the conversation on Twitter with an eye to recall, echoing, and campaign impact. 13
  14. 14. Graduate School of Political Management The PEORIA Project May 2016 Update Contact Michael D. Cohen, Ph.D., PEORIA Project Chief Data Scientist michaeldcohen@gwu.edu | 202.579.9094 | @MichaelCohen Michael B. Cornfield, Ph.D., PEORIA Project Director corn@gwu.edu | 202.994.9598 | @MBCornfield Lara M. Brown, Ph.D., Political Management Program Director larambrown@gwu.edu | 202.994.4545 | @LaraMBrown Crimson Hexagon, Social Media Data Partner info@crimsonhexagon.com | 617.547.1072 | @CrimsonHexagon 14

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