Two Tales of the Democratic Frontrunners

Former Vice President Joe Biden has held on to a comfortable lead in the polls for the last six weeks, but Twitter tells a different story. Could it indicate a changing tide?

As we inch closer to the 2020 Democratic primaries, all eyes have understandably been on the latest polling numbers. But is that the only indicator of how the candidates are performing?

The ScottRasmussen.com/HarrisX poll tracks who registered voters are most likely to vote for in a Democratic primary. From Aug. 1 to Sept. 12, former Vice President Biden nabbed 30.52% of the vote, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at 16.93% and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at 12.68%.

But Twitter tells a different story. During that same time period, front-runner Biden came in sixth in terms of average retweets, a common metric for social media engagement, with an average of 1,147 retweets per tweet. Meanwhile, Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) topped the Twitter list with an average of 3,433 retweets per tweet but came in middle of the pack (6th) in polling, garnering just 3.23% of the vote.

Taking a look at polling and retweets by rank over time offers another interesting perspective. The top four polling candidates – Biden, Sanders, Warren and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) – have stayed in their respective spots for the last six weeks. However, Twitter appears to catch more of the ebbs and flows of the presidential hopefuls’ popularity.

We’ll be watching to see if Twitter engagement ends up being an early indicator in changes in voter preferences.


What Does Debate Speaking Time Mean for Twitter Follower Growth?

Turns out camera time during the Democratic debate may not translate to popularity growth – at least on Twitter. Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke the most during last Thursday’s debate, but ranked seventh in Twitter follower growth.

We’ve become accustomed to seeing the presidential candidates jockeying for airtime, and the third Democratic debate was no exception. But it turns out camera time may not matter so much when it comes to gaining voter popularity – at least on Twitter.

Front runner former Vice President Joe Biden spoke the most during last Thursday’s debate, with 3,392 words. That’s 609 words more than the next most-talkative candidate, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). However, Biden came in a distant 7th in terms of Twitter follower growth, nabbing just 8,557 new followers since the debate on Sept. 12.

On the other end of the spectrum, businessman Andrew Yang spoke the least during the debate – 50% less than Biden – but managed to nab nearly 40,000 new Twitter followers. Yang’s promise to give 10 families $1,000 a month for a year may have had something to do with his surging popularity online.

Similarly to Yang, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) spoke the second least but had the third highest growth in Twitter followers.


Say My Name, Say My Name

Who merited the most mentions during last week’s presidential debate? The results—which highlight the differences in candidates’ strategic approaches—may surprise you.

There were 10 candidates participating in the Democratic primary debate in Houston, Texas, last Thursday, but the two individuals mentioned most weren’t on stage.

Candidates invoked President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama more than any other individuals, including the entire 2020 Democratic presidential field.

These mentions tell an interesting story about debate strategy. Eight of the 10 candidates mentioned President Trump, with the exception of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). In fact, Sanders didn’t mention Obama either. Instead, he focused on the other candidates on stage, in a marked contrast to his competition.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) mentioned Trump more than any other candidate—a total of 10 times. Occasionally, she even stared directly into the camera to speak to the President.

We’ll be watching to see which of these strategies work for the candidates going forward.


What Twitter Tells Us Going Into This Week’s Debates

Ahead of this week’s Democratic debates, we took a look at how the candidates stack up in terms of their podium placement and Twitter engagement across the two nights of debates.

The second round of Democratic debates, hosted by CNN, are taking place this week. The 20 candidates who qualified were split into two groups – Tuesday and Wednesday nights – and podium placement was determined by public polling numbers.

We took a look at the debate groups and podium placement based on Twitter engagement, i.e. average favorites and retweets, to see how the candidates stack up.

Of the night one candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) had the highest Twitter engagement, matching their center stage placement.

However, on night two, former Vice President Joe Biden nabbed one of the two center spots on stage, but he comes in fourth in Twitter engagement, after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), businessman Andrew Yang and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).

Another outlier on night two? Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) will stand at the end of the stage. But his Twitter engagement last week was higher than Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D).

Will Twitter engagement be indicative of debate performance? We’ll be watching.

Tweeter in Chief

Trump vs. Cummings

President Trump found a new Twitter target in Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. Who won this weekend’s Twitter feud? The answer may surprise you.


President Trump has a new Twitter target: Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, which includes the Baltimore area. Over the weekend, the president tweeted about the district about a dozen times, calling it “very dangerous” and “badly run” and even tweeting videos of the area.

Rep. Cummings responded back, with half a dozen tweets of his own, condemning the president’s comments.

When comparing engagement of the tweets from Trump vs. those from Cummings, it’s worth noting that Trump has nearly 140 times as many followers (62.4 million) as the Maryland Representative (460,000).

However, even with his follower disadvantage, Cummings had the most-popular tweet in their weekend feud with more than 47,000 retweets. Trump’s top tweet mentioning Cummings, on the other hand, nabbed just over 44,000 retweets.

Overall, Cummings’ tweets mentioning Trump had an average of 12,400 retweets, while Trump’s tweets about Cummings had an average of 29,100 retweets.

The Spin Factor

The Many Messages on Mueller

Last week, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller dominated Congress’ Twitter conversation, with more than 1,200 mentions from the Spin Factor … and a variety of hashtags.

With former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s much-anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees last week, it’s no surprise that he topped Congress members’ conversation on Twitter.

In fact, six of the top 20 hashtags used by congressional lawmakers this week mentioned Mueller or his report on the 2016 election.

In total, there were 1,271 tweets mentioning Mueller by Congress—907 mentions by Democrats and 364 mentions by Republicans. That means 13 percent of Congressional Democrats’ tweets and 10 percent of Congressional Republicans’ tweets last week mentioned Mueller.

In the past, Republicans have been relatively quiet about Mueller’s investigation, so these numbers might be surprising. But, it seems Mueller has bipartisan interest in Congress.

Tweeter in Chief

Is Social Media Trump’s New News Media?

Last week, President Trump took aim at social media platforms at the White House’s Social Media Summit. Our analysis found Trump’s criticism of Twitter and Facebook resonates well with his followers.

The White House’s Social Media Summit last week made it clear that President Trump has a new target: social media platforms.

Trump’s top hashtag last week was #SocialMediaSummit (used eight times), while “social media” tied with “the border” for the president’s top bigram, or two-word combination (used 10 times) last week.

We analyzed Trump’s last 3,200 tweets (going back to Nov. 26, 2018) to see how he discussed the various social media platforms, and how those tweets resonated with his base.

Trump mentioned Twitter the most, with 17 tweets about the platform. The vast majority of those tweets were negative, with the exception of a retweet discussing how “united on Twitter” conservatives are, and an April tweet about a “great meeting” with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at the White House.

Seven out of Trump’s eight tweets about Facebook were critical of the social media platform, while Trump’s lone mention of LinkedIn was a retweet mentioning a job offer through the platform.

The president’s tweets about Twitter and Facebook in particular are well received by his followers. Those tweets received an average of 27,949 and 25,688 retweets respectively. Both were more than Trump’s average engagement of 19,369 retweets per tweet.


Trump Looms Large on the 2020 Trail

Presidential candidates focused heavily on Trump last week, with other top campaign topics like “climate,” “health” and “immigration” trailing behind.

As the race to November 2020 heats up, democratic presidential hopefuls’ tweets provide insight into their top campaign issues.

But are policy issues taking a backseat to the president himself? Last week, the most mentioned topic, used 186 times, was “Trump.”

“Climate” came in second with 123 mentions, followed by “health” with 89 mentions. And despite the recent uproar against the treatment of migrants at the border, “immigration” came in fourth, with 58 mentions—fewer than half of “Trump” mentions.

Will the 2020 election be a referendum on President Trump? Or, will the democratic candidates’ tweets about policy issues increase? We’ll be watching.

The Spin Factor

Which One of These Is Not Like the Others?

Democratic lawmakers were responsible for all five of Congress’ most-retweeted tweets last week. The tweets focused on key social issues, like immigration and women's rights. But one tweet may surprise you.

Which congressional tweets nabbed the most retweets last week? Those that focused on racism, immigration, women’s rights … and A$AP Rocky.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) had two of the five most-retweeted tweets over the last week. The first – and top tweet of the past week – was a retweet of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) response to President Trump’s tweet about “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.” Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet about Trump administration’s planned ICE raids also made the top five list.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) tweeted a video about the conditions of the migrant detention centers, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) noted the anniversary of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

The fifth most-retweeted Spin Factor tweet is where it gets interesting. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) tweeted his support for Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky, who ran into some real “Problems” when he was detained in Sweden after an altercation.


The Debate Winners … on Twitter

What can Twitter tell us about the winners and losers of the first Democratic presidential debates? As of Sunday, Sen. Kamala Harris gained the most followers following the debate (+112,536), while former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro saw the biggest follower percent growth at +42%.

As the country continues to debrief on last week’s first Democratic presidential debates, we looked at Twitter to assess the social media winners. Twenty candidates in total participated in the debates, 10 on Wednesday and 10 on Thursday.

Of all the candidates, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) had gained the most followers – +112,536 – post-debate.

Businessman Andrew Yang came in a close second, with 111,612 new followers, a 29% increase in his follower base. However, Yang’s big jump on Twitter may be less about his debate performance, and more about his contest to provide $1,000 per month for one year to someone who follows and retweets him on Twitter.

Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro gained 92,557 new followers, which was notably the highest percent growth – at 42% – among all candidates.

And South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) rounded out the top five candidates by follower growth.