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The Politics of Instagram

Election 2020 Influence on Instagram: Conservative Attempts and Liberal Successes

The attempts of politicians, entertainers, women and conservative media

On November 7, 2020 the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was called by the Associate Press. As a highly anticipated election during a fantastically challenging time, people across all mediums connected to discuss the race. In the year prior there were 560,847,710 interactions with verified accounts on Instagram that made use of the word “election”.

As a relative newcomer in the social media space, Instagram doesn’t have as much scholarly politics/influence related work as Facebook or Twitter do, but it is a medium with a decidedly younger audience and worth learning more about. What were the most influential Instagram posts about the 2020 election? Who sent them? What got the most likes and comments? What could this tell us about younger voters, political communication, and influence in non-traditional ways? To answer these questions I pulled all the verified Instagrams accounts who made a post mentioning “election” from November 1, 2019 through November 7, 2020 through CrowdTangle. For simplicity I’ve limited the discussion to the top 10 performers here, but will happily engage with others interested in further discussion.

The most liked election 2020 post on Instagram was sent by Barack Obama on November 7, 2020 congratulating Joe Biden on his victory. This post came on the heels of the AP announcement and quickly accrued over 7 million likes.

Following Barack Obama, the second most liked post was from Jennifer Aniston in July encouraging people to participate. Third was another in October of Aniston mailing in her ballot. Fourth was a congrats message from Michelle Obama, followed by Adele wishing the US luck on the election, then Demi Lovato congratulating Biden, actor Cole Sprouse indicating how big the election is, Adele recounting the US election she first performed at SNL, Dua Lipa saying she’ll talk about the election on Jimmy Fallon, and finally a post by Selena Gomez having a conversation with Stacey Abrams.

Top most liked “election” post Nov 2019-Election 2020

What can be made out of this simple analysis? Out of all of the top most liked election posts, Joe Biden was the clear favorite. Outside of actual politicians, women in entertainment who posted about the election got the most likes. This is maybe not surprising given how the medium is used by actors and musicians. All of the top liked posters have 30+ million followers, and there is a positive correlation between the number of followers someone has and the numbers of likes for a given post, though a large following is not the whole story. Aniston — who had the two top most post likes after Barack Obama — boasts just 36 million followers while Dua Lipa has 60+ million followers and Gomez has 207+ million followers. It’s not all about audience size.

The most commented on election post and the corresponding top 10 reveal different features of the medium and users. The top most commented post was from Instagram itself on November 2, 2020. The comments were both supportive and derisive. Looking further down at the top 10 most commented posts shows more political viewpoints than what I found when just looking at likes.

Top most commented “election” post Nov 2019-Election 2020

In the top 10 most commented on posts there is greater divergence. The following graph is colored blue for posts with a Democratic leaning intent and red for those with more Republican leaning sentiments.

On September 27 The Rock came out as an independent who supported both Republicans and Democrats in the past, but made a video describing his choice of Joe Biden for President. The Barack Obama post is the same as the most liked one from above. Donald Trump’s most commented on post was from November 6 with a campaign update from Georgia, next was Aniston’s well liked mail-in ballot post, the most commented FOX news post described Bruce Springsteen not wanting Trump to win reelection, next is the second Trump post in July proclaiming his plans to win big, following that is the second most commented election post from FOX about Tommy Lee from Motley Crue not wanting Trump to win, then came Michelle Obama’s 2020 DNC speech, and the last one is from an account called The Shade Room, highlighting that Wendy’s did not support Donald Trump.

Some of this is surprising. FOX News is the favorite major network of Republican politicians. But the 2020 election and the style of politics pursued by Donald Trump tested that bond. Conservative social media users have indicated that some forums are less hospitable to their views and though this analysis doesn’t indicate one way or another on that question — it does show that posts favoring Democratic politicians tended to be more well liked and commented on in the Instasphere. However, this is not because Republican voices didn’t try to use the platform. Breitbart and Fox news created an impressive share of all election referencing posts made in the past year. As this dizzying pie chart shows, conservative media made plenty of election content on Instagram, it just wasn’t the most popular.

The largest demographic of Instagram users are 18–29 which also happens to be the age band with of the greatest share of citizens who fail to exercise their right to vote. This look is just a peek at what greater attention to this data might tell us about young voters and resonant political communication. It looks like in 2020 women, women in entertainment specifically, politicians, and a few new sources engaged the greatest amounts of people with their Instagram election content. Most of this successful content tended to support Joe Biden, though President Trump himself cracked the top and other conservative voices tried. As social media becomes more varied a deeper understanding of what works on what medium and for which audiences will be increasingly important political academics and practitioners. As someone working on youth participation I’m interested in how more work unfolds even if it does mean spending more time on the Gram.




3Streams is a blog for anyone interested in the convergence of politics, policy & ideas. It elevates the work of scholars interested in reaching a wider audience on timely topics with novel perspectives. To write for the blog, just leave a message or email 3Streamsblog@gmail.com.

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Lindsey Cormack

Lindsey Cormack

I am an assistant professor of political science and run www.dcinbox.com. I teach at Stevens Institute of Technology and reside on the Upper East Side

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