PEORIA Project Report: Unclosed Deals Shows Neither Candidate Staking a Claim to Followers of Vanquished Rivals

Decline of #NeverTrump shows political support requires more than a hashtag

July 15, 2016


John Brandt: [email protected], 202-994-3199
Jason Shevrin: [email protected], 202-994-5631

WASHINGTON (July 15, 2016) – Presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have not yet staked a claim to the online supporters of their felled opponents according to a new Public Echoes Of Rhetoric In America (PEORIA) Project report from George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) released Friday.

Despite a slowing of Trump’s follower growth rate, the businessman’s advantage in both social and mainstream media mentions continued. Trump scored 3 million more Twitter impressions and nearly 250,000 more news stories than Clinton. Despite these advantages in mentions, Clinton’s polling lead endured.

“We’re tracking and analyzing political Tweeters because we think they make able soldiers in campaign ground wars,” said project director Associate Professor Michael Cornfield.  “We don’t know yet how our metrics connect to poll results and eventual voters.  But we don know that at this stage of the presidential race, campaigns should be recruiting social media followers from vanquished primary opponents.”

“We’re just not seeing Trump’s consistent strength on the Twitter platform translating into public support like it did during the nomination phase.  We are now seeing the Twitter data and the polling data diverge.  Trump still leads in followers and engagement.  But Trump’s Twitter followers are no longer growing faster than Clinton’s.  In a sense, the race has reset,” said GSPM Professor Dr. Michael Cohen.

Clinton is the owner of the tweet of the campaign to date, as her suggestion to @realDonaldTrump to “Delete Your Account” was retweeted 413,667 times on June 6. Trump’s reply was retweeted roughly half as much. 

The report also found that despite the popularity of the #NeverTrump hashtag in the waning days of the Republican primary, such online activism is far from a sure indicator of growing political support. The hashtag had two large spikes, one after the South Carolina primary, and another on the day of the Indiana primary, which Trump won resoundingly.

“So much of what we have seen the media -- both mainstream news and activists on social platforms -- focus on has been ephemera -- frothy bubbles of controversy that build and burst within 72 hours. Hashtags are leftovers -- the soapy residue -- of this newer phenomenon. Whether they tell anyone anything more than what was once momentary fad remains to be seen. But surely, what we know is that caution should be used when trying to interpret them as evidence of a political movement,” said GSPM Interim Director Professor Lara Brown.

Despite the end of their campaigns, the twitter accounts of defeated primary contestants continue to grow, but engagement goes dormant. Further examination could show whether and how well the successful campaigns tap into these potential supporters in the weeks and months ahead to turn former opponents into supporters, which will be important for the general election campaign.

The big opportunity for both campaigns is that there are all of these engaged citizens online following presidential candidates who lost their nominations. Clinton and Trump can leverage these followers of their rivals online creatively, they can help consolidate their party after a long primary season.

This release is based on a close collaboration with Crimson Hexagon, a leader in social media analytics and Zignal Labs, a realtime, cross media story-tracking platform.  All data included in this release was derived from their platforms, including day-by-day media tracking, numbers of followers, and various indicators of engagement.  Additional analyses are provided in the accompanying report as well as additional context in the companion deck available from GSPM on the PEORIA website.