The polls in Iowa are painting a very close race, but if we’ve learned anything about polling over the last couple of years it’s that the rise of smartphones and online interactions has yielded extremely inaccurate poll numbers. The two most accurate indicators of how Iowa is going to play out are net favorability and social media.
Over the years, two of my top five biggest passions have been working in politics and social media (faith, family, and cars happen to be the other three). As such, I’ve been blessed with some insights on the ebb and flow of how the topic and the venue interact. Donald Trump’s success has been the result of extreme name recognition, non-stop television coverage, and a mastery of social media. I’ve even reached out to the Cruz campaign to offer assistance in reducing the gap without luck.
We’ve been running hundreds of targeting experiments pertaining to the Presidential race on Facebook using advertising and earned media and we’ve noticed several interesting trends. One of those trends is that there are hundreds of thousands of outspoken Trump supporters on social media, more than all other candidates combined. We’re not talking about fans or followers. We’re looking at the hardcore supporters who post incessantly in Facebook comments, YouTube comments, and on Twitter.
One might believe that this would be favorable to Trump, but here’s the thing: these aren’t voters. They’re not caucus participants. They’re the “armchair pundits” who are having fun using Trump as a proxy through which they can express their anger and frustration with the United States government in general and with either party in particular. These are the people who are “doing their part” by rallying support for Trump. The problem is that 72% of the time, their responses and posts are five words or less.
Incidentally, the most popular response is “Go Trump Go!!” It is such a common post or comment that we’ve started looking into whether or not it’s the result of bots, but to the best of our knowledge it’s real people who simply don’t articulate well or often.
By contrast, only 31% of pro-Cruz comments are five words or less. The majority state some sort of case for why they support Cruz rather than just posting generically or quickly. Both camps also have the highest frequency of single-panel “memes” – images with words on top of them to state a message. Marco Rubio is the only other candidate with this type of response over 3% of the time.
There was another interesting thing we noted when we targeted Trump supporters versus Cruz supporters on Facebook. Trump supporters were more likely to like or comment on a post but were far less likely to actually click through to read it. Their headline-only perspective might explain why they seem to be unaware of what Trump’s touchback amnesty proposal really means.
A post we did about affirmative action was particularly telling. The headline was “Trump Tackles Affirmative Action Questions.” The article itself described Trump’s long-standing and current support of affirmative action. It generate over 100 comments, most of which were pro-Trump but against affirmative action. Several even mentioned that they can’t wait until Trump gets rid of affirmative action.
Despite over 300 “likes” and over 100 comments, there were only 11 clicks to the article itself. The conclusion, of course, is that many (most?) Trump supporters aren’t actually familiar with his liberal policy proposals.
My personal favorite comment by a Trump supporter happened today. It said something to the effect of, “Trump is the only one who can keep the country from going bankrupt.” I don’t remember the exact comment because the user deleted after someone replied, “You do know that Trump is the only candidate to file for bankruptcy and he’s done it four times, right?”
What does all of this mean?
Cruz By a Lot
The polls indicate more anecdotal support for Trump than Cruz, but it takes action to vote in a primary and it takes commitment to go to caucus. The biggest risk for Cruz is that his supporters will think that it’s a lost cause. If Cruz can stay within 8% on the polls leading to the Iowa caucus, he will win. If he’s as close as he is now or if he’s leading in the polls, he will win by a large margin.
Social media represents false political reach. That’s not easy for me to say since it’s part of what I do for a living. Thankfully, it’s this false political reach that will make the Cruz victory in Iowa that much more shocking to Trump and his supporters.