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Election 2016: Using Twitter Data to Analyze Candidate Performance

The 2016 election cycle has been ripe with rich content since the early spring of 2015, when hopefuls began declaring their candidacy. As you might expect, top candidates quickly took to Twitter to spread their messages far and wide. For anyone with a nose for data, this intersection gives us a method for measuring the footprint of candidates. It also raises the question: does effective social media messaging lead to political success?

Using the MicroStrategy 10 platform, we wrangled Twitter data on Election 2016’s top presidential candidates from the time they entered the race. We cross-referenced key news events that occurred during the election cycle with the most retweeted content from each candidate related to each event. We then compiled the following dashboard to display the results.*

Based on our analysis, we found the following:

Twitter retweets aren’t a perfect measure for determining voting, but they're close.

After adding the aggregated retweets of each candidate over the key events of the election cycle, we found that the popularity of a candidate based on retweets is a strong indicator of where they stand in the election. With the exception of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, top candidates have the same rank in retweets as they do in aggregated primary voting. Here’s how they ranked in our Twitter research:

  1. Trump: 483,937
  2. Sanders: 320,727**
  3. Clinton: 300,268
  4. Cruz: 55,329
  5. Rubio: 41,092

**Although Sanders is currently ahead of Clinton in retweet count, this is a new revelation. When Sanders backed Clinton on July 12, he trolled a tweet from Donald Trump, suggesting Trump was afraid to debate him and subsequently earned 35,463 retweets, pushing his score past Clinton’s.

Candidates proved that the most consistent path to retweets is by trolling others.

Over the course of the campaign, candidates have discovered that there are two paths to amassing a large number of retweets: announcing a presidential bid, or trolling a fellow candidate. Here’s what we've seen so far in 2016:

  1. Trump’s top tweet: trolling Clinton after she won the California primary (170,579 RTs)
  2. Clinton’s top tweet: announcement that she is running for president (99,031 RTs)
  3. Sanders’s top tweet: trolling Trump for not condemning support of KKK (44,664 RTs)
  4. Cruz’s top tweet: announcement that he is running for president (13,027 RTs)
  5. Rubio’s top tweet: trolling Trump for not condemning support of KKK (7,712 RTs)

All candidates troll each other or other politicians.

In our analysis, we tracked how many times candidates trolled another candidate or politician to advance their platform. Over the key events we tracked, Donald Trump was most likely to troll others. Here’s the full breakdown:

  1. Donald Trump - 50% likely to troll
  2. Marco Rubio - 45% likely to troll
  3. Bernie Sanders - 31% likely to troll
  4. Ted Cruz - 27% likely to troll
  5. Hillary Clinton - 19% likely to troll

Candidates don’t always tweet about the same topic, but when they do, it’s most often around primaries, tragic events, or debates.

An analysis of the key events, thus far, from the 2016 election cycle shows that all active candidates tweeted on the same current event 17 times. Most often, this was around key primaries (5 occurrences). However it was also common for candidates to tweet about the same event when it involved a mass shooting or national tragedy (4 occurrences). Here’s a full breakdown:

  • 5 Occurrences where all candidates tweeted about primaries or primary-related events (Iowa Caucuses, New Hampshire Primaries, Super Tuesday, Clinton wins 2,383 delegates, California Democratic Primaries)
  • 4 Occurrences where all candidates tweeted about national tragedies (Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas)
  • 4 Occurrences where all candidates tweeted about key debates
  • 2 Occurrences where all candidates tweeted about Donald Trump commentary (ban on Muslims, violence at rallies)
  • 2 Occurrences where all candidates tweeted about a candidate dropping out of the race (Cruz, Sanders)

Donald Trump has the distinction of tweeting both the most and least successful tweets around major events.

Most successful: Trolling Hillary Clinton
Least successful: Trolling Ted Cruz


The dashboard captures Twitter data from the 2016 election’s top presidential candidates and cross-references key news items that occurred during the election cycle. The goal was to determine which tweets were most popular. We defined popularity by number of retweets.

In selecting which campaign or news events to include in our timeline, we applied the following criteria. The event must be:

  • A U.S.-centric story, versus an international event.
  • Covered by at least The Economist and The Wall Street Journal, which are defined in a Pew Study as two of the most trusted sources of news for liberals and conservatives alike.
  • Received tweets from at least two of the presidential candidates running for nomination at the time of the event.

The dashboard linked to within this post updates in real-time and will reflect current RT numbers. The numbers used within this post are reflective of when the article was drafted and written over the months of June and July 2016.

If you want to build your own interactive dashboards, you can get started today for free with MicroStrategy Desktop.

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