I really, really, really, really, really, really like you: The Facebook Election
Here’s a sobering thought. Although little has been made of what the FiveThirtyEight blog once termed “The Facebook Primary”, that is the process of trying to extrapolate votes, election trends or general support for a candidate based on “likes” on his or her Facebook page, it is curious to see just how much support there may be for a candidate based solely on Facebook likes. Of course, this metric ultimately isn’t very reliable as it pertains to actual votes. The Pew Research Center states that 58 percent of American adults use Facebook. However, in what I will call “The Facebook Election”, one must note how many Facebook users are NOT over 18 and therefore cannot vote but are still politically aware and active to the extent that they can. Facebook provides the medium for which this group can express their views.
Further, according to FiveThirtyEight, users are in general “…disproportionately young (although not as young as users of other social media networks), low-income and female”. And because Facebook likes are obviously not votes and because Facebook use, regular or casual, is not a representative sample of the electorate, any discussion of a candidate based on support in social media must begin from the premise that there are limitations on what may or may not be extrapolated based exclusively on Facebook likes.
Much of what Facebook brings to the table is what one erstwhile popular comedian once termed an enhancement of personality. Beyond the ability to comment on posts and express views, Facebook likes may reflect what people in general may think of a candidate simply as a person. I became curious about this one metric and found some interesting numbers. As of March 31, 2016, Hillary Clinton had 3,078,534 likes on their personal Facebook page while her opponent for the Democratic nomination Bernie Sanders had 3,721,242 likes on his. These numbers are deliberately not taken from any campaign page, as many of these are simply unofficial groups of supporters or localized campaigns, but from a candidate’s own official “personal” page.
What does this metric indicate? Well, for one, depending on the number of likes Sanders had prior to his candidacy, it’s fascinating to see how much support he has garnered, especially from the young and tech-savvy, 2 demographics that skew strongly in his favor. It also would indicate that Hillary Clinton is not nearly as despised a public figure that some within the media or her opponent’s campaign would lead the public to believe. However, these numbers of likes are not necessarily large. Neither candidate can boast the numbers of likes of the New Orleans Saints, the lackluster NFL franchise who went 7-9 last year and missed the playoffs, with 4,063,945 as of this writing. Nor are either them as popular as comedian Seth Rogen, whose was most recently famous for playing a man who among other things threw up during a Christmas mass in the movie The Night Before, with 4,291,154 likes. Go figure.
Now here’s where it get’s interesting. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has 6,816,379 Facebook likes as of March 31, 2016. This is more than both Democratic candidates combined by over 16,000 likes. Granted he was a popular celebrity before his run for the White House, so that certainly padded his numbers. Also, if it’s any comfort to people who find the idea of a Trump presidency nauseating, take comfort in the knowledge that all 3 candidates combined still do not challenge the Facebook popularity of Avenged Sevenfold. No, I’ve never heard of them either, but they’re a California-based heavy metal band that hasn’t recorded anything since 2013, if you must know. But considering all that the media has made about Trump’s lack of any redeeming qualities as a person, much less his qualifications as contender for the presidency, coupled with the ability to un-like any Facebook page, this number jumps out at me. If the Democrats, and Bernie Sanders in particular, are going to assert how much popular support they enjoy based on social media and go on to use the idea that they have far greater advantage in November over the Republicans as a talking point, then somebody within their campaigns needs to rethink using the concept of social media popularity as an electoral strength.
Who do 58 percent of American adults, especially young, low-income females, like?
Donald Trump, it would seem.