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.

The Fourth Branch

Ranking the Presidential Candidates

Last week, as the Democratic debates took over the political Twittersphere, D.C. journalists and pundits discussed some candidates more than others. Taking the lead? Former Vice President Joe Biden.

As the Democratic presidential candidates faced off for the first time in last week’s debates, D.C. journalists and pundits tweeted about some candidates much more than others.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was the most mentioned among the Democratic candidates, with 651 tweets by D.C. journalists and pundits last week. In not-so-close second came Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), with 376 mentions.

Those numbers are still far behind President Trump’s 1,365 media Twitter mentions last week. Even former President Obama nabbed 117 media mentions on Twitter —more than a large number of candidates including U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Also telling was who didn’t make the most-mentioned list: Businessman Andrew Yang—a candidate who had a huge gain in Twitter followers over the past week—as well as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The Spin Factor

A New Wave of Bipartisanship?

Last week, members of Congress were more bipartisan than usual—on Twitter, at least. Even the word “bipartisan” was tweeted with similar frequency by Republicans and Democrats.

The terms used most frequently by members of Congress are usually skewed towards one party or the other. But last week, in a twist, congressional Twitter accounts’ top terms were almost … bipartisan?

Words like “bill,” “border,” “senate,” and even “bipartisanship” itself were used at similar rates by both Democrats and Republicans, although Democrats used “Trump,” “children” and “people” much more frequently.

Was this week an outlier? Or will Twitter topic popularity continue to cross party lines? We’ll be watching.


Twitter Engagement Shows a Lopsided Debate Lineup

The Democratic National Committee held a two-part, random drawing to help ensure the 2020 presidential candidates were split fairly among next week’s two debates. However, an analysis of the 20 candidates’ Twitter engagement over the last week forecasts a lopsided lineup.

What does Twitter engagement tell us going into next week’s Democratic presidential debates?

The Thursday, June 27 (“purple group”) debate includes most of the Twitter heavyweights.

The Democratic National Committee held a two-part random drawing to determine how candidates would be split among the two debate nights. According to Vox, “This method was designed to ensure there was no ‘kids’ table’ debates with only the poorly polling candidates.”

However, six of the seven candidates with the highest Twitter engagement over the last week were randomly assigned to the second debate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who averaged 1,533 retweets and 7,448 favorites per tweet last week, is the only top tweeter assigned to the first night.

Among the second debate night, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg tops the list with an average of 1,285 retweets and 11,484 favorites per tweet, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Perhaps even more telling is looking at the average Twitter engagement collectively by group. The “orange group” received an average of 507 retweets and 2,247 favorites last week, while the “purple group” received an average of 842 retweets and 3,929 favorites.

We’ll be keeping an eye on how the lopsided lineups impact the debates … and the candidates.