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Twitter Anthropology: Your Data-Mined 2016 Presidential Candidate Portraits

Digital-media firm Essence broke down the profiles of followers of 2016 presidential candidates. Here’s what they found out.

The 2016 U.S. presidential race is on, and every candidate, from Hillary Clinton to Rick Santorum, is off working with consultants to boost their social media followers. But there’s something else going on under the surface (and on social media): Followers of Republican candidates overwhelmingly tend to self-identify themselves by political affiliations, while followers of Democratic candidates are more likely to mention that they are music fans in their Twitter profiles.

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These are just two of the insights discovered by Essence, a digital-media agency that monitors social media for clients like Amazon, eBay, Google, and Walgreens. The company gave Fast Company early access to a data pull they conducted of presidential candidates’ Twitter followers.

Forty thousand random Twitter profiles of presidential candidates’ followers were mined with social monitoring tools from a company called Sysomos. The profiles were then filtered through Wordle, a word-cloud generator. In the case of politicians with less than 40,000 followers, like Lindsey Graham, 10,000 followers were used.

Andrew Panos, the Essence employee who researched the data, told us he found something interesting: When it comes to the Republican candidates’ “brand” as determined by the terms most associated with their followers, none of the 2016 class (save, perhaps, Donald Trump) show much differentiation.

Jeb Bush (71% Male, 29% Female) LOVE/CONSERVATIVE

“The sameness of Republican candidate followers is very apparent and should be concerning during both the primaries and a nationwide election. From the viewpoint of an outsider, or an undecided voter looking in, the fan bases of the GOP candidates offer almost no differentiation,” Panos told [i]Fast Company[/url]. “Most followers share their political leaning as their personal defining characteristic. Following that, it’s their Christian faith, love for country, and their family role, which is primarily husband or father.”

Essence, which doesn’t work in the political sphere, did the Twitter data pull as a public-facing example of the sort of information they do for their clients. Panos said the information his company analyzed when researching followers of political candidates is “the same kind of information” used by brands when developing ad-buying strategies.

Although Essence used Sysomos to go through a random selection of follower profiles linked to each candidate to determine the followers’ genders, they then used a separate product called Wordle to build word clouds of the terms they used in their profiles most frequently.

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Panos and his colleagues discovered that there’s a gender gap for the two political parties on Twitter. The base of the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, is 49% male and 51% female. On the Republican side, “each fan base of the GOP candidates is 65% male or higher,” Panos said.

Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and democratic candidate for U.S. president

Looking at the word clouds above shows potential issues the candidates will have to deal with down the road. Clinton’s word cloud has one set of job listings for her followers (“producer,” “consultant,” “development”), while Jeb Bush’s followers describe their occupation in terms like “entrepreneur,” “manager,” and “professional.” Several candidates, such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee, have disproportionate numbers of followers who are retired.

But for the various presidential candidates, the hardest parts of Twitter outreach are further ahead. After Labor Day, serious spending is expected to go into social media promotion for the various Republican contenders–expect political Twitter to get real interesting, real soon.

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