Top Political Hashtags of 2016
The Slogans, Attacks, and Movements That Have Driven the Campaign for President of the United States
Before the first debate on Monday night, let’s take stock of what we’ve seen on Twitter, the public square of social media. Hashtags are ways to connect what someone says to a larger group who are discussing the same thing. If I wanted to add my two-cents on what was going on during the big game this weekend, I’d include #UFvsUT in my tweets.
In this heated campaign year, millions of Twitter users have been utilizing hashtags to promote their favored candidates and movements as well as contest ones they oppose. As the campaign moves into its debate phase, let’s count down nine of the top slogans, attacks, and movements we’ve supported, opposed, and endured this year so far.
9. Lock Her Up (476,395 posts)
After the FBI failed to indict Hillary Clinton on charges related to her using a private email server, opponents began chanting at Sanders and Trump rallies to lock her up. This happened at both conventions and the hashtag had its most posts (69,609) on the day Clinton accepted the nomination on July 28.
8. Delete Your Account (749,483 posts)
For a little while, we thought we had the tweet of the campaign. Clinton’s mid-summer rebuttal to the avalanche of Twitter Crooked Hillary posts from the Trump campaign and its supporters was “Delete Your Account,” a well-recognized meme directing the target to pack up and go home.
The impact was quick but did not endure. Peak #DeleteYourAccount was the first day of the tweet, June 9th, with 242,831 posts.
7. Basket of Deplorables (994,501 posts)
Last week, Hillary Clinton piled half of Trump’s supporters into a “basket of deplorables.” At first it seemed like a gaffe, and she apologized for the half. But in this unpredictable campaign year, #BasketOfDeplorables quickly became a popular hashtag and in just 10 days became our #7 of the year and Clinton’s #1 hashtag attack on Trump.
The hashtag peaked on its second day, September 10. At 627,069 posts, it is the biggest hashtag from either candidate this year.
6. Crooked Hillary (3,560,321 posts)
With characteristic flourish on April 16, Trump bestowed upon Hillary Clinton a nickname that has become the most effective attack of the campaign: Crooked Hillary. At a rally in Watertown, New York, Trump hit Clinton with the name as a means to frame the race that he was self-funding while she was taking money from lobbyists and special-interests. He followed up with the above tweet the following day on the 17th.
The hashtag peaked on July 15 with 88,100 posts, the day of the attacks in Nice, France. As Trump stays on his main themes, including attacks (if not on script or to the campaign plan), Crooked Hillary continues to be tweeted daily by tens of thousands of Twitter users.
5. Never Trump (5,330,169 posts)
Earlier this year, we spent some time looking at #NeverTrump and concluded that hashtags≠campaigns. Never Trump first became rallying cry for Republicans and some conservatives in their attempt to block Trump from becoming their nominee for President of the United States. It’s since extended beyond the party to being used by Democrats and independents.
The hashtag’s strongest day was on February 27 with 275,328 tweets, which was the end of the Jeb Bush for President campaign after his loss to Trump in the South Carolina primary. After that day, #NeverTrump has remained in the public discourse but never at those levels.
Even when the proto-movement seemed to have a candidate in Evan McMullin finally announce on August 8, the hashtag only registered 30,337 tweets, a garden variety day for #NeverTrump.
Before we move on to campaign slogans and the movement of the year, it is important to reflect on the power of these attacks. All five got widespread attention on by traditional and social media. Users of Twitter and other platforms shared, debated, and argued their merits. But what you’ll find next is more interesting: the more thematic elements of political discourse on Twitter had higher hashtag volumes than these in-the-moment attacks.
Campaign Slogans and a Movement
4. I’m With Her (6,245,205 posts)
Hillary Clinton’s quest for the presidency relaunched with Ready for Hillary and landed with I’m With Her. It’s an awkward hashtag as you need to drop the apostrophe for it to work on Twitter. Of the three campaigns, it’s the least used in terms of volume. As you can see on the right-most button, it also set up creatively snarky, reluctant, yawns of resignation from supporters of Bernie Sanders.
The hashtag was most used in 216,317 posts on the day Clinton accepted the nomination on July 28 with an additional 130,121 the following day.
3. Feel The Bern (7,349,980 posts)
The third most used Twitter hashtag of the year goes to Bernie Sanders, or more specifically, Winnie Wong. As Time covered in February, she was the founder and digital strategist for People for Bernie, an early group pushing for him to enter the race. She coined the term in a creative session with other organizers, ironically on Facebook. Wong was clear that the hashtag was not a revolution in and of itself. As she said, “It’s a tactic.”
But what a tactic. Not only did Sanders enter the race but the campaign, and the candidate, fully embraced the message. The apex of the hashtag, with 100,061 posts, was on March 8 where Sanders had upset Clinton in the Michigan primary in the popular vote. FiveThirtyEight had given Sanders only a 1% chance of winning. Despite Sanders losing the nomination, Twitter users still post with #FeelTheBern: 177,476 times since the July 29, the day after the Democratic National Convention.
2. Black Lives Matter (9,115,158 posts)
Outside of the campaigns themselves, Black Lives Matter has been the strongest, most coherent, political movement in 2016. To be fair to how it’s posted on Twitter we included “Black Lives Matter” and “BLM” as search terms on Crimson Hexagon. Nothing else we’ve watched this year has come close and it has impacted the campaigns significantly.
The hashtag has become a rallying cry for people who believe that police enforcement resulting in death or injury has disproportionately targeted blacks. The initial hastag flash point was when George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2012 for the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black youth.
BLM has been connected to the 2016 presidential campaign. Clinton had several BLM mothers on the stage at the DNC and Trump had a sheriff on stage at the RNC. Sanders got caught in a flap during the nomination for saying that “all lives matter.”
The date where the largest number of #BLM posts was on July 8, with 884,446 posts, the day of the Dallas shootings. While BLM activists were marching that day, shootings resulted in the killing of five police officers. Police were protecting the protesters. After calm was restored, both sides came together on Twitter.
1. Make America Great Again (11,433,550 posts)
Borrowing the line from President Ronald Reagan, Trump revived “Make America Great Again” as his own and it has been, by volume, the political hashtag of the 2016. A master brander, Trump consistently reinforces the slogan in almost every stump speech, virtually every media appearance, and with the now iconic hat, currently listed on the campaign website as the “most popular product in America.”
The hashtag #MakeAmericaGreatAgain and its pithier sibling #MAGA had its peak Twitter day just last Friday on September 16 with 104,219 posts, which is when Trump appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, released his economic plan, and abandoned his claim that President Obama was not born in the United States, attacking Clinton for starting the controversy.
And Now, The Debates
With almost three out of four registered voters very or somewhat likely to watch the first debate on September 26, Johnson being denied a spot, and both sides working the refs, we will likely have another hashtaggable moment. After all these months with Clinton and Trump we finally get to see them on the same stage at the same time, an event certain to generate lots of hashtag activity from and about the campaigns. There will be a winning hashtag by frequency, and it may be a harbinger of which campaign emerges from the debate with greater momentum. We’ll let you know how it goes.
If you enjoyed this article, click the💚 below so other people will see this here on Medium. Follow me on Twitter @michaelcohen. 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.