By Julia Milet

Twitter was the dominating battlefield between the new US President and Hillary clin- ton during the election. But to what extent can social media influence the public?


Music credits: Full House – Theme Song

The Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump face-off was labelled the Twitter general election due to the record number of election-related tweets. With 1.79 billion users on Facebook and nearly 320 million on Twitter, it follows that social media is at the heart of political campaigns.

In the past, traditional media was an effective means of coordinating grassroots campaigns. Candidates would use propaganda tools such as television and radio stations to rally support from local, regional and national communities in order to help them in their campaign. Between 2004 and 2012, Barack and Michelle Obama made 195 television appearances. The Clintons registered 338 media appearances.

Bernie Sanders was portrayed as the outsider in the race for the Democratic nomination. He opted to run a grassroots campaign, a movement which by definition encourages political conversation and uses self-organisation. His campaign received seven million individual donations, breaking Obama’s record in 2008. It was effective but not enough to ensure him a position in the presidential race.

Times have changed and in spite of Bernie’s efforts the former Secretary of State overshadowed him. Like Trump, Hilary Clinton took a more an individualistic approach. As a Democrat representative, she was less reliant on communities and collectivities than her predecessors. But, Donald Trump knew how to differentiate himself.


He recognised social media as a powerful platform that would make him more accessible to the public. Martin Moore, founder of the Media Standards Trust, explains: “A campaign strategy depends on a candidate’s purpose. They must be careful on putting too much weight on social media. In previous campaigns Democrats used data to find potential voters, especially via the use of emails.”

Compared to previous presidential candidates, Donald Trump did not have any specific marketing strategy – besides building a wall between the US and Mexico. Trump gave very few interviews to the mainstream media, preferring to address the people who supported him directly on Twitter. While Hilary targeted the minorities and millennials, Mr Trump focused on the 90 per cent of his voters who felt marginalised by Obama’s policies.

“UK politicians need to think about reaching more broadly”

According to the New York Times exit polls, the average profile for a Trump voter is that of a Christian white male, over 45 years old and earning more than $100,000 per annum. Donald Trump primarily marketed himself on Twitter and Facebook. His supporters followed: highly automated accounts generated five pro-Trump tweets for every pro-Clinton tweet, according to research from Oxford University; as a result, the number of Pro-Trump tweets came to 10 million (55.1 per cent) compared to 3 million (19.1 per cent) Pro-Clinton tweets last November 2016.

In 2015 during the UK general election, the Labour party was also very present on social media. Market research firm Harris Interactive tacked how political parties engaged with the public on social platforms. It found that 41 per cent of Labour supporters had used Twitter and 83 per cent had used Facebook in the 30 days before the election, beating the social media presence of Conservatives supporters.

The firm’s research director Lee Langford explains that it is one thing for social media to allow greater reach, but campaigners need to understand it is not just about social media. “Due to the fact the Labour party was highly engaged on Twitter, people believed Ed Miliband would be the winner of the election. But it is not because Conservatives were more discreet on these platforms that they were not politically present. Social media is a major development in terms of how people relate to each other. UK politicians need to think about reaching more broadly,” he explains.

According to POPTICAL’s survey How political are you on social media?, 79 per cent of the respondents said they used more Facebook than Twitter.


Read more in the latest issue of POPTICAL 


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