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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Trump Trumps Challengers on RTs

President Trump received a staggering number of retweets, compared to his 2020 challengers, showing his base’s unwavering support.

Confirmed 2020 presidential candidates may be sucking up plenty of media oxygen, but they’re lagging behind Trump when it comes to Twitter.

Last week, President Trump received an average of more than 18,500 retweets per tweet, while the second-most retweeted challenger, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), only received an average of 3,610 retweets. That means Trump’s average retweets were more than five times higher than any of his competitors, showing how engaged Trump’s supporter base is.

However, it’s worth noting that Trump has 57 times as many followers as Buttigieg, meaning that the mayor’s average retweet-to-follower ratio was 10 times higher than Trump’s.

Will these Twitter follower and retweet numbers matter at the ballot box? Only time will tell.

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Who Raised the Barr?

All eyes were on U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s Senate hearing last week, but President Trump’s 2020 challengers’ focus on Barr varied widely on Twitter. Sen. Kamala Harris mentioned him 16 times on Twitter, while others like former Vice President Joe Biden did not mention Barr at all.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has been at the center of the Mueller report aftermath due to controversy over the way he has handled its release.

Some of the 2020 presidential candidates’ Twitter feeds were focused on Barr and the Mueller investigation, perhaps highlighting a campaign strategy going forward. But other candidates were tight-lipped on the topic.

Two Democratic candidates from California—Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Eric Swalwell—tweeted the most about Barr, with 16 and 15 mentions, respectively. But five of the 22 confirmed candidates—including former technology executive Andrew Yang and former Vice President Joe Biden—did not mention Barr at all.

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They Don’t Always Tweet about Trump, But When They Do…

The confirmed 2020 presidential candidates receive more engagement on Twitter when they go after President Trump. The group’s tweets mentioning “Trump” received, on average, more than 10 times as many retweets as their posts without a Trump hook.

Last week, tweets from the confirmed 2020 presidential candidates that mentioned President Trump received significantly more engagement than those that did not.

Overall, the 18 confirmed 2020 challengers had 130 tweets that mentioned Trump and 1,182 tweets that did not mention the president.  When looking at Twitter engagement, a clear trend emerged: the candidates perform better when they go after Trump.

The group’s tweets mentioning Trump received an average of 7,324 retweets per tweet, while tweets without a Trump hook only received 638 retweets on average. Nearly all of their Trump-related tweets criticized the president and his policies including health care, immigration, foreign affairs and climate change.

It appears Democrats are more motivated by opposition to Trump than the candidates’ specific platforms – at least on Twitter.

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It’s Hard To Tweet Up With the President

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg had the highest Twitter engagement over the last week among President Trump’s 2020 challengers. But Buttigieg is still far behind the Tweeter in Chief, averaging about 15% as many retweets and 20% as many favorites.

President Donald Trump holds a huge lead among his 2020 challengers when it comes to Twitter engagement. Over the last week, the president’s original tweets received an average of 25,975 retweets and 110,439 favorites.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg had the next-highest engagement among confirmed 2020 presidential hopefuls, but his original tweets received just a small fraction of the engagement the president saw. Buttigieg had an average of 3,868 retweets and 22,029 favorites.

Is Twitter engagement an early indicator of electability? And, can Trump’s challengers catch up? We’ll be watching.

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Is SXSW the New Iowa?

Eight of the 14 confirmed Democratic presidential candidates tweeted about or participated in the annual technology conference known as SXSW.

The “First in The Nation” primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire are never far from presidential candidates’ tweets—or their travel itineraries. But last week, all eyes were on Austin, TX, as the 2020 Democratic hopefuls mentioned the trendy innovation festival “South by Southwest” on Twitter more than both states combined.

More than half of the candidates tweeted about “SXSW,” showing that the hot Austin gathering is the newest political stump. The candidates used the festival to tweet about technology, climate change and the economy.

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Can the 2020 Presidential Candidates Keep Up With Trump on Twitter?

Two 2020 presidential candidates surpassed the Tweeter in Chief in tweet volume this week, while other candidates tweeted far below the Trump Twitter threshold. Will it have an effect on their overall campaigns?

We’ve been tracking how the 2020 presidential candidates are using Twitter as a campaigning platform, but can they keep up with President Trump’s Twitter activity?

Two candidates surpassed Trump’s Twitter activity (73 tweets) over the last week. Former tech executive Andrew Yang (@AndrewYangVFA) had 237 tweets last week, while author and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) had 118 tweets.

On the other end of the tweet volume spectrum, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) had less than half as many tweets as President Trump, at 31 and 35, respectively.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on how the candidates are pacing with Trump on Twitter.