The Hashtag Primary: Can Instagram Predict The Winner?

Late into the night, voters in Iowa will be debating which presidential candidates they want their state parties to support. The latest polls show Donald Trump to be a slight favorite for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton to be in the same position with Democrats. However, even the best of these numbers note that no candidate is polling higher than the margin of error built in. This is a tight race and with all the data available to us could Instagram be hiding any clues to who will win tonight?

Whenever you post a photo to Instagram you’re able to add a location. I wanted to know how each candidate was doing inside of Iowa and New Hampshire and not just who had the most mentions total. To figure this out, I pulled every candidate-related hashtag photo from October to this morning that has been posted. Then I narrowed that down to only those photos that were taken in Iowa and New Hampshire. Let’s walk through the findings and see where the race appears to be headed.

Democrats Dominate Instagram

Instagrammers immediately show their enthusiasm for both Democratic candidates. In Iowa and New Hampshire, there were 3.4 Democratic tagged photos posted for every one Republican. Our expectation was that with more candidates Republicans would see more of a total volume, but a hashtag can also be thought of as an endorsement. So, Republicans in both states are testing the waters with multiple candidates before posting a tagged photo to their feeds. But how are the candidates doing by state?

State by State Picture

Iowa and New Hampshire are different universes as far as the Republicans are concerned. We see Trump, Rubio and Carson ascendant in Iowa, but Carson is nowhere to be seen in New Hampshire. John Kasich manages more support than Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina in the Granite State, New Hampshire. However, Instagram data shows Donald Trump ahead in both states.

The Democratic side is more clean cut with Bernie Sanders generating higher enthusiasm in both states than Hillary Clinton. Instagrammers overwhelmingly #feelthebern.

Mapping Momentum

The final step in my analysis was to see who has the most momentum leading into tonight. I charted a rolling two-week average of photos tagged by candidate. I’ve narrowed the Republican field for clarity in the graph below:

Donald Trump, again, is not only the clear standout, but he continues to soar above his peers. This is somewhat surprising given that he has less of a physical presence in Iowa, but has instead relied on tent-pole events. In 2nd, we see Marco Rubio who is defying expectations given his polling numbers and minimal field presence. Ted Cruz, who has a sizeable following on Twitter, doesn’t see that translate into support on Instagram and is at the bottom of the pack.

For the Democrats, the story continues to be Bernie Sanders. Both candidates are seeing interest surge over the last two weeks, but Sanders is having photos posted at a rate of just over 2:1 to Clinton.

We’ll be watching the results closely as the come in, but if we had to use this dataset alone we’d predict wins for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders tonight. Let’s see if a photo is worth a thousand votes.

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Jason Smith

Jason Smith is a Senior Analyst at Spredfast and works to find the underlying story the data is trying to tell. When he isn’t breaking APIs and making charts he can be found playing music around Austin. Follow him on Twitter for general nonsense and various complaints.