Social Media and the U.S. Presidential Race
Later today, we should know the results of the 2016 U.S presidential election. This campaign season has been a contentious one, as both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took to social media, television, and online platforms to spar throughout the course of the campaign season. As we noted earlier, while the marriage between social media and politics is nothing new, it’s played a particularly prominent role in this year’s race: Twitter livestreamed all three presidential debates and Trump launched his nightly Trump TV show on Facebook Live on October 19, the night of the third and final debate.
So did this year’s presidential campaign have a sustained impact on Facebook and Twitter user traffic over the course of all three debates? We analyzed Verto Analytics data to determine if either of the two major social media platforms experienced an increase in daily users (among U.S. adults, ages 18+) during each of the three presidential debates.
A Declining Interest Rate in the Election Antics
We already witnessed the effect that the first presidential debate had on Twitter’s traffic — Verto Analytics data shows that Twitter’s external traffic jumped by more than 30% around the September 26 event between Clinton and Trump; presumably some portion of that increase was tuned in to the debate livestream. However, the subsequent debates were unable to build on this momentum — the second debate on October 9 produced the lowest user numbers across both social media platforms, including both external and logged-in traffic: Twitter saw a 22% drop in both logged-in users and external traffic, while Facebook experienced a 10%-13% drop in its logged-in and external traffic numbers.
And although the third debate, which aired on October 19, resulted in a slight user number bounce for both social media platforms, user numbers were still well below those recorded on September 26, the night of the first presidential debate. Even Trump’s use of Facebook Live to soft-launch his Trump TV show during the third debate did not have a measurable impact on Facebook’s numbers: BuzzFeed News reported that the debate-night debut of Trump TV maxed out at about 200,000 concurrent viewers, and that those numbers quickly dropped. Regardless, that count represents a small fraction of the 156.9 million users that visited Facebook on October 19.
Electing to Log In to Facebook and Twitter
While Verto data shows that user interest declined across both social networks, there is one clear trend: Facebook has accumulated a huge lead over Twitter when it comes to logged-in user traffic. We’ve already addressed the potential pitfalls of Twitter’s relatively high external traffic numbers, and our data shows that while external traffic continues to comprise the bulk of Twitter’s total traffic, the opposite is true for Facebook: its external traffic is consistently outsized by its logged-in user traffic. And this could be a big deal for advertisers, marketers, and investors: Facebook had a fairly rosy Q3 earnings report, while Twitter continues to struggle as it tries new ways to monetize its users and platform.
*Twitter external traffic numbers differ slightly from those we originally reported on October 7 due to a recalibration of data.