Last Saturday, CNN’s Harry Enten offered a simple piece of advice,”stay off Twitter” if you want to understand the 2020 Democratic primary.
While I suggest you read his full piece, Enten’s core argument was that, to the untrained eye, the internet hive mind could potentially skew perceptions of the early campaign: just because you see a candidate frequently brought up online doesn’t mean the general public is showing a similar level of interest. In fact, they may not even know who those candidates are yet.
And this makes sense, because right now, the average voter isn’t deep in the weeds of politics Twitter — if we use 2016 as our baseline, there’s a good chance many won’t make up their minds until mere weeks or days before November 3rd, 2020.
Nevertheless, there’s still much to analyze about the early campaign, and because so much of it will be fought online, exploring dynamics through this lens could lend clues, no matter how small, about how everything’s playing out.
In that spirit, here’s a chart plotting candidates’ Twitter fans against their polling fans:
This exercise is far from scientifically sound — I probably wouldn’t include “number of Twitter followers” in a forecast model — but it still provides some interesting information. Marianne Williamson, for example, has a ton of Twitter followers, but doesn’t even appear in most polls (to be fair, she built up a career outside of politics, and can hardly be considered a serious candidate).
Joe Biden, on the other hand, has nearly a third of the vote share, but even fewer followers than Cory Booker (something I expect to change once Biden actually declares his candidacy). Speaking of Booker, despite boasting the second-highest follower count, he’s failing to meet expectations in this regard, polling at just under four percent.
For the most part, though, candidates follow the trendline pretty closely. Here’s a full breakdown of the data, including everyone:
So, what’s this all mean? If I had to give a piece of advice, it’d be this — don’t put too much stock into how quickly the internet rallies around a certain candidate; instead, place figures like their number of followers in context, be it with polls, fundraising, or some other metric.
After all, the Yang Gang may have a growing online presence, but its electoral force has yet to materialize.