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2016 Presidential race: are outside influences engaging the public more than the candidates themselves?

On Wednesday, September 16, 2015, will be the second live TV GOP debate to be broadcast on US television. As we continue our coverage of the 2016 Presidential race, we thought we’d take a step back and look at what’s been happening on social media for the candidates between debates and what it is they are doing to gain so much traction.

So far, there are 57 candidates to have either formally announced their candidacy or expressed public interest in doing so – and we have been monitoring them all.

But, because there are so many candidates running for the 2016 US Presidential Election we decided to focus this particular post on the top 10 candidates - rated by number of social mentions our big data analytics engine picked up.

A fair fight/focussing our efforts

Before we go any further, I should note that as part of this look into the US Presidential candidates’ social performance, we decided to just focus on the dates *after* the first live Republican television debate.

As discussed in our previous blog posts, we saw huge spikes for mentions of the Republican candidates during the debate, plus mentions of a couple of the Democratic candidates. This is an obvious result, as it was a Republican debate and it meant that the Republican candidates had a significant advantage over all other candidates.

By disregarding all data up to, and including, August 6, 2015 (the night of the first TV debate), we hope to have given all the candidates a relatively fair playing field.

So for this snapshot we are looking at a month’s worth of data: August 7 – September 7, 2015.

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It might come as no surprise that the top 10 candidates (based on volume of social mentions) have come from the two largest parties; the Republicans and Democrats.

While some of the independent candidates have been making waves in the media recently (such as Deez Nuts), they still weren’t anywhere near enough to affect the volume of mentions for candidates from these two parties. But hopefully we gave those independents a fair try.

So what gets people talking?

The purpose of this test is to see whether we could spot any correlation between what the candidates were doing/saying during this time period and whether that resulted in their spikes in conversation.

And the results surprised us.

I, for one, was expecting to see spikes for the candidates when they held rallies and TV interviews and made controversial statements. Usually it’s the outlandish statements or slip ups that really get people talking on social media – this is something we saw during the previous Republican debate with Donald Trump; he was throwing out remarks and comments that caused so much controversy, that the social sphere couldn’t help but get worked up.

To an extent this is still true. I’ll go into the details soon, but we’ve seen several spikes where candidates have caused controversy – gaining more social chatter.

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However the key to producing more social chatter, it seems, is purely down to outside influences – namely the media and external organisations not associated directly with the candidates.

Losing traction

When comparing our previous results to this new set of data, it’s clear to see that the top 10 candidates has remained fairly consistent since the Presidential race began. But we can also see that certain candidates who gained a lot of social traction during the live television debates have also fallen by the wayside somewhat since the debates.

Both Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson were two surprise candidates during the August 6th debate and had a huge boost in social volume during and in the days just after the debates – with journalists and social media getting excited about the future of these candidates. But that spike in social chatter for Fiorina and Carson has dropped off, especially for Fiorina who has seen very little social mentions in the last couple of weeks.

But they aren’t the only two to see a drop – all the candidates have seen their volume of social chatter drop since the last TV debate, with the exception of Donald Trump.

However, this pattern is somewhat to be expected. The live television debates are a perfect platform for the candidates to get their views across and, conversely, the perfect platform to allow the general public to collectively watch and comment on the candidates, their policies or even their haircuts.

And as there has been a lull of over a month since the last debate, it’s to be expected that public interest will wane.

Monitoring the Pulse of the candidates

As with our previous report, we opted to use our Social Pulse Scoring system to help monitor the social chatter around the candidates.

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Exclusive to Digital Contact, our Social Pulse Scores are created using proprietary algorithms, developed in-house, which allow us to see how many mentions an entity (person, product, place, company, etc.) is gaining on social media.  In a nutshell, we compare the number of mentions for an entity at a given moment to what we’d expect – the higher the pulse score, the more unusually high the mentions for that entity. Large spikes in a pulse score generally correlate with major events the entity is involved with.

Monitoring the Pulse is integral to finding deeper insights. Because of controversial candidates, such as Donald Trump (who is far ahead of all other candidates in terms of pure volume of social mentions), we expect a high volume of mentions in general – it’s the norm.

Therefore the average amount of social engagement (for all candidates) is symbolised by a Pulse Score of 0 (zero) – this allows us to see where social engagement is higher or lower than expected.

By looking at the Social Pulse Score (below) we can see that Donald Trump’s mentions has levelled out somewhat – however, comparing directly to the volume chart, we can see which of the peaks in mentions are out of the norm and investigate those further.

Looking at those outside influences

As mentioned, we noticed that it wasn’t just what candidates were saying that brought them a high amount of conversation on social media, but it seems that external sources were a key factor.

Throughout the month there have been a few peaks for the candidates when they have attended rallies and spoken to the public, but for each of the candidates, including Donald Trump, the highest peaks in Pulse (and raw volume) of social mentions has come from external organisations and the media.

To help highlight these moments, we have produced the below chart:

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Chart breakdown

The celebrity factor

As you can see from the chart above and the breakdown below it, the majority of social interaction actually originates from external influences, such as celebrities making comments or jokes about the candidates and those comments/articles seeing a high volume of shares on social media.

If it is something the candidate has done or said, it’s often a mistake or a failed attempt at publicity – such as Hillary Clinton’s failed attempt to connect with students through the use of emoji, or Ted Cruz shutting down Ellen Page, or Marco Rubio accidentally hitting a kid with a football.

Carly Fiorina, who saw a surprising boost in social media chatter and support from the media and public during the live TV debate saw almost no traction for the rest of the month, with the exception of one Twitter account seeing a tweet supporting Carly Fiorina receive a large volume of shares.

Even Donald Trump’s controversy didn’t see as much of a response as when Kanye West announced he would run for President in 2020. Kanye West didn’t make a reference to Donald Trump in his VMA-acceptance speech, but social media began comparing the two.

We spoke in the past about how Donald Trump could be seeing constantly high social chatter, due to his celebrity status before the Presidential Election race. People know who he is (more so than the other candidates) and for that reason they can connect better with him.

It looks like the same could be said here. When celebrities, comedians or popular journalists make comments about either politics or politicians, we can see a clear boost in the volume of mentions and Social Pulse Score of each of the candidates.

Debating the results

Now, this should not to discredit social media during political campaigns, but should make people aware how big data can often be misconstrued by those not reading it properly.

This is part of the reason we developed the Social Pulse Score. It allows the team at Digital Contact to look at the data with more detail and depth – we can spot the irregularities in simple volume spikes and understand why what we see is happening.

As for the Presidential candidates’ campaigns, we can now see a correlation between comments made by those on social media with a stronger following and how that affects the candidates.

People pay attention during debates

There is another factor at work here, one I touched on at the beginning of the article. The candidates have now gone for over a month without a live debate.

During the previous Republican debate we saw that the public was widely engaged with the candidates, their policies and the comments they made during television broadcast.

During this downtime there has been little for people to comment on, with the exception of the candidates’ rally faux pas and other things celebrities are commenting on.

The example of Kanye West strongly suggests that people have an interest in the political movements of the United States. Even though many of the social comments are made in jest at this juncture (i.e. comparing Kanye to Trump), there is an interest.

Judging by the previous television debate, I believe that we will see the return of direct public interest in each of the candidates’ policies come the next live Republican Party television debate this Wednesday, September 16, 2015.

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