Taking the Pulse of Politics on Social

If we can agree on one thing about 2016, it’s that no one will say it was boring. Between Brexit and the U.S. presidential election, we’ve had a year full of issues, votes, and October surprises. The Spredfast research team has spent the past few months looking at daily (sometimes hourly) views of social opinion, conversation, and sentiment. But with just about two weeks until election day in America, we’re seeing some shifts in attitudes on social.

What can social media, the world’s largest—and most real-time—focus group, tell us about the upcoming contest?

Let’s dive into three major political insights the data is pointing to:

1. This is the First Anti-Election We’ve Seen

Normally in election cycles, individuals and groups will voice support for their candidate’s vision and character while taking the occasional jab at the other side. This year, things have changed.

As we monitor the conversations of Trump and Clinton supporters, we’ve seen something new in 2016. While the supporters of each candidate are talking about their own candidate on social media, each side has created more posts bashing the other side. Both Clinton and Trump supporters talk about the other candidate more than their own, giving us our first “anti-election” in the social age.

Each side has created more posts bashing the other side.

 

We also see huge rifts in conversation between the two groups. We analyzed the social sharing patterns of Trump and Clinton supporters, and how often they share content from supporters on the other side of the aisle. After looking at three different subjects, we can see how divisive this election has become.

When we look at a fairly sterile topic—in this case, Pokemon Go—both groups share each other’s content with good frequency. When it comes to Brexit, the sharing patterns begin to show two distinct groups, but we still see a good amount of cross-pollination between the two groups. But on the subject of the election, the two groups are no longer on “social speaking terms.” More like separate bedrooms.

We can see this same pattern with social sentiment for both candidates. We mined positive and negative Twitter sentiment when mentioning either candidate or their associated hashtags, and concentrated our efforts on the biggest political prize of the season: the swing states.

We see negative sentiment growing for both candidates in every swing state over the past six months. But the more important trend is that Trump’s negativity has grown more aggressively than Clinton’s, giving her a higher percentage of positive social chatter than Trump in every single swing state.

2. Sentiment on Women’s Issues is Turning

Donald Trump is famous for his claim that “No one respects women more than me,” a phrase he’s been using since late 2015 to attract female voters. Going into early October, the social sentiment around Trump and women’s issues was 70% negative. When the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced, things changed.

Not only did conversation levels skyrocket, but Trump’s negative sentiment numbers also shot up to 90% the few days after the scandal broke, showing that the tape had a real impact on the public’s perception of the candidate.

3. Hillary Clinton’s Supporters are Beginning to Emerge

A third trend we’ve seen over the past few months is a vocal majority of hyper-fans on Twitter for Donald Trump. By analyzing accounts using campaign-related hashtags and terms in profiles for both candidates (like “#Trump,” “#MAGA,” “#TrumpTrain,” “#ImWithHer,” “#Hillary2016,” “#HillYes,” etc.) we can watch how many people are publicly proclaiming their support over time. The number of profiles waving a flag of support for Trump has always outnumbered Clinton’s, sometimes by almost 300%.

But the important trend we see here is that the gap is narrowing. When we check October numbers, Trump still retains a lead, but that lead has been diminishing every month. In other words: if Hillary Clinton had a social enthusiasm gap, that disadvantage is disappearing just in time for the election.

If Hillary Clinton had a social enthusiasm gap, it's disappearing just in time for the election.

 

In fact, since early voting started in Ohio on October 12th, supporters of both sides have been sharing their early decisions with the #OHVotesEarly hashtag. When we run the numbers on that view, can see that there doesn’t seem to be a gap in enthusiasm at all.

The Remaining Question

Social media gives us a real-time lens on conversation that we’ve never seen before, along with dimensions like geolocation, gender, age, and sentiment. The data is available at a scale that polls can’t compete with, and with a turnaround time that is measured in seconds and not in weeks. But social media sentiment doesn’t equate to political certainty. We’ve seen where the trends are headed, but the real question remains: which candidate can turn opinions, social posts, and enthusiasm into votes? We’ll all know that answer soon.

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Chris Kerns has spent more than a decade defining digital strategy and is at the forefront of finding insights from digital data. He currently leads Analytics and Research at Spredfast. His research has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, USA Today and AdWeek, among other publications.