The Role of Social Media in The US Presidential Elections

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With the dust settling on three of the most captivating and widely publicised live election debates, the time has come for the American public to vote their faith into one candidate. Whether you are in favour of Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” campaign, or Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” spiel, there is a good chance that you have turned to social media to engage and learn more about this year's Presidential elections.

Throughout the 2016 elections, social media has played a pivotal role in influencing and presenting campaigns and candidates to voters. The degree social media has played in the elections has been noted by Wikipedia, with the emergence of a page solely based around social media’s role in the United States presidential election.

Earlier this year, a survey of US adults showed that 44% reported having learned about the presidential election from social media. Nearly half of US adults have turned to social media to obtain knowledge about their country’s election. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that the 2016 election has been dubbed as ‘the first true social media election’.

Facebook now boasts 1.7 billion monthly active users, up a momentous 60% from 2012 when the previous election took place, along with Twitter seeing an 185 million user influx compared to 2012, rounding the number of monthly active users up to an enormous 385 million. This substantial growth in social users makes social media profiles imperative for candidates, due to the sheer reach at their disposal. The opportunity to effortlessly relay campaign messages to a huge portion of the American public has made this election incredibly active and current, with both Clinton and Trump rarely going a day without posting.

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Although the scale of social activity during this year’s elections is unprecedented, this isn’t the first time social media was used tactically during a US election in order to drive home party messaging and candidate support. Barack Obama is widely acknowledged as the first presidential candidate to harness the power of social media, ploughing $47 million into digital ad spend, 10 times the amount of Republican rival Mitt Romney.

Fast-forward to 2016, and in March this year, The New York Times stated that Donald Trump had earned just shy of $2 billion in free media coverage, compared to the $10 million actually spent on bought media, which has now been reported to have increased to $17.3 million.

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However, when focusing solely on social media, the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier in the year that the US public had spent collectively 1,284 years reading about Donald Trump on social media. If he sought similar attention by buying ads, Trump’s social reach would have cost him the grand total of $380 million. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has garnered around $100 million in free exposure via her social media activities.

It isn’t just the candidates using social media to communicate with the public, as social media platforms themselves are actively encouraging users to get involved and register to vote. Starting on the 28th October, Facebook is launching a 4-day nationwide user registration campaign in order to drive election awareness and user participation.

Facebook trialled something similar for a single election day in 2010, to understand what information generated the most engagement. These findings have helped shape the process involved for the 2016 US elections.

To document the use of social media throughout the US elections, The Wall Street Journal has created a Clinton vs Trump: Live Twitter Stats microsite, dedicated to reporting on the latest social media statistics and, more importantly, the most successful messages from each candidate:

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The use of social media has drastically moulded the way politics is fed to the public, and it can only be speculated the role digital will play in future elections. Come November 8th, there will surely be a complete overhaul on social media following the announcement of the election results.

Has social media helped influence and shape your opinion on the US Presidential Elections? Tweet us @FastWebMedia letting us know YOUR thoughts on the importance of social media in politics.


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