Which Convention Was More Successful?

How Twitter analytics can help us understand campaign growth, enthusiasm, and message echoes.

Over the coming days, pollsters, pundits, and the campaigns will spend their time interpreting what we saw at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. (I’m partial to my research partner’s Dr. Michael Cornfield’s Rhetorical Recaps: read them here). This discussion will help shape the overall narrative of who won and who lost, and if it matters, until the debates in September refocus our attention.

But what do we know today?

Our PEORIA Project, out of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, has an answer: Hillary Clinton and the Democrats won the battle of the conventions and it wasn’t even close. But the big news is where Clinton and the DNC won: on Twitter.

Wait a minute. Isn’t Trump the King of Twitter?

As our research has shown, Donald J. Trump has dominated the 2016 presidential nomination season on Twitter, overwhelming his GOP primary opponents and overtaking Hillary Clinton in terms of the number of followers in mid-October last year (see below), while consistently earning more retweets and total engagement (see our report).


Followers as Campaign Growth

What happened? The Clinton campaign grew more than the Trump campaign on Twitter during their conventions. Here’s the data on followers: Over the four days of the RNC in Cleveland, Trump’s campaign (and very personal) Twitter account gained 159,536 followers. However, over the four days of the DNC in Philadelphia, Clinton’s campaign (and more professional) Twitter account gained 191,767 followers.

You read that correctly: Clinton gained over 32,000 more followers during her convention than Trump did at his.

What does this mean? One theory we’ll test, based on our most recent PEORIA research, Unclosed Deals, is that Clinton consolidated her party in Philadelphia better than Trump did in Cleveland. It would not surprise us if we found many Bernie Sanders followers adding Clinton to their follower lists. It is just as likely that followers of suspended GOP campaigns for president remain reluctant to add Trump to their Twitter feeds.


Total Engagement as Enthusiasm

Campaign growth only matters if it is deployed. As we found out with Bernie Sanders, engagement on Twitter can be very powerful, mitigating the impact of a wider following on the platform. We found that Sanders was able to close the polling gap with Clinton during the primaries, in part, due to the enthusiasm of his supporters, reflected in how engaged they were on Twitter.

Our partners at Crimson Hexagon define Total Engagement as the sum of replies, mentions, and — we believe most crucially — retweets on Twitter. As Clinton gained more followers during her convention, she also had more total engagement compared with Trump during his convention. The score: Clinton 2,610,582 and Trump 2,221,099.

Bottom line: Clinton defeated Trump on Twitter, his preferred media platform, by close to 400,000 distinct engagements on Twitter during the conventions.

How can that be? Additional analysis will be posted on our PEORIA website in the coming days but our theory is that the very active Sanders Twitter team were more engaged than followers of the GOP candidates who lost to Trump. Again, Twitter engagement is reflective of enthusiasm and it is likely that there are more #NeverTrump than #NeverHillary holdouts.


Retweets as Campaign Message Echoes

Finally, we come back to retweets. As we have noted previously, retweets are perfect echoes of a campaign’s message. The retweet is a way to amplify exactly what a candidate or designated staffer says. This is clearest and most powerful way of getting the word out to your followers. It might not be an endorsement, but it’s replicating the message free to the campaign.

Retweets are a part of Crimson Hexagon’s Total Engagement metric and, in this case, it represents the clearest difference between the two campaign conventions. Below is a chart that shows retweets, replies, and mentions for Hillary Clinton’s Twitter account during the DNC. As you might expect, engagement rises toward the ultimate moment where she accepted the nomination on July 28.

The number of Hillary Clinton mentions and retweets increased over the last two days of the Democratic convention.

Now look at the graph for Trump based on his convention. While mentions and replies are roughly equivalent, the most significant difference is the drop in retweets. While Clinton’s account was retweeted more, Trump’s was retweeted less toward the end of the convention. Comparing the conventions, Clinton earned 271,376 retweets than Trump.

The number of retweets for Donald Trump actually dropped when he accepted the GOP nomination.

This is a completely unexpected result based on Trump’s dominance of the platform. Twitter users were echoing what she said when it mattered the most far more than they echoed Trump on the last day of his convention. You can almost see the drop in enthusiasm as Trump’s nomination became a fact, not a presumption.


Up Next: The Debates

Moving forward into the general election campaign the next big scheduled events are the debates on September 26, October 4 (Vice President), October 9, and October 19. While this campaign season has been anything but traditional, we anticipate some drop-off in attention to the campaign (and more sleep) now that we have nominees. Still, events have a way of reframing presidential campaigns.

In advance of the debates, party consolidation around the candidates will continue but likely at a slower rate. We are tracking various words, phrases, and issues both campaigns are using to frame the election and their opponents and will have more to report in the coming months. Until then, we eagerly await the next time the Trumps and Clintons see each other. It might be a little different this time around.

If you enjoyed this article, click the💚 below so other people will see this here on Medium. You can follow our research on our website or on Twitter @PEORIAProject, which is funded by a generous grant from Mark R. Shenkman. To learn more about the Graduate School of Political Management visit our website or follow us on Twitter @GSPMgwu.

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