The Role of Social Media in the 2016 United States Elections

The Role of Social Media in the 2016 United States Elections

The whole world was shocked by the news of Donald Trump having won the 2016 US Presidential elections. A majority of individuals had neither predicted nor expected this to happen from the national party nominations through to the actual elections. While Trump was abusive, erratic, unconventional and largely unpopular, Clinton was conservative, mindful of her words and unaggressive. Among the two combinations, it is not a surprise that the world expected Trump to lose to Clinton. One poll after another predicted a win for Clinton from the beginning to the end of the race, and thus her losing seemed unlikely. The 2016 election was among the few ones in the United States in which social media played a critical role, particularly during the campaigns. According to statistics, approximately out of every ten individuals in the US are on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. The figures translate to about 79% according to a survey carried out in 2015. It should be noted that in the recently concluded elections, the two primary presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, spent a lot of their time on Facebook engaging and confronting each other (Allcott and Gentzkow 11).

Although people across the world were shocked by the results, social media experts and analysts expected the said outcome. The First Post online magazine wrote an article that claimed that the outcome of the election was going to shudder many people not only in the U.S. but around the world. In the report, the magazine indicated that Donald Trump was to emerge victorious. With social media playing a pivotal role before and during the elections, some people referred to the elections as a ‘social media election.’ Twitter and Facebook were used primarily in the dissemination of campaign messages and election-related information (Allcott and Gentzkow 18). Significant energy and vigor characterized the final days of the social media platform campaigns. According to social media and political analysts, the reason behind Trump’s success was the campaign pressure mounted by Team Trump in the final campaign days.

A majority of Americans depend on social media platforms for news and most importantly are informed about what happens around the word world politically, economically, and socially. A study conducted by the Pew Research Centre (PRC) in 2016 January indicates that approximately 44 percent of the citizens of America relied on social media during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections. Another research carried out in January 2016 by the PRC group showed that about 24 percent of adults viewed posts and social media escapades of Trump and Hillary Clinton (Allcott and Gentzkow 14). In fact, most of the debates between Trump and Hillary reached a large audience in America through the social media. According to social media marketing experts, Donald Trump applied an approach that was very effective and worked for his supporters. The tactic triggered his win as it enabled him to attract a large number of potential voters. Most of Donald Trump’s followers on the two social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter, are said to have been impressed by his expressions. It was observed that Trump’s followers on Twitter increased to 47.5 million people during and after the campaign season. The communications made by Trump at the time of the campaigns was quite simple in that the supporters readily understood his message. According to Professor Ira Kalb, Trump’s simple communications on the social media enabled him to attract a majority of the white people, especially the youth (Allcott and Gentzkow 46).

Chad Kawalec describes Trump as being authentic and straightforward on social media platforms, perspectives that are crucial to successful communication on the platforms. The West Hollywood Brand Identity president describes Trump as a person who expresses himself freely by saying what he thinks (Allcott and Gentzkow 46). Trump’s fearlessness, confidence, and capacity to say anything and everything regardless of its inappropriateness are some of the aspects that saw him stand out on social media thereby increasing the number of his supporters. On the contrary, Hillary Clinton’s campaign approach on social media can be described as conservative and cautious. Of course, with a good percentage of the electorate depending on social media, this affected her campaign and possible election to the top seat significantly. Pitney, an American professor of politics at the Claremont McKenna College, argues that her campaign could only be equated to her husband’s TV ones that were even more cautious (Allcott and Gentzkow 34).

A section of the American electorate believes that Hillary Clinton’s social media campaign was much more positive as compared to that of Trump. They were characterized by a meager percentage (20 percent) of negativities translating. In contrast, almost 60 percent of Trump’s tweets throughout the campaigns were marred by negativities such as gender or racial discrimination. It is still unbelievable to analysts how Donald Trump became prominent and successful in the long run amidst the insults (Allcott and Gentzkow 34). Trump’s fame from a political perspective grew significantly despite his frequent abusive speeches targeting women whereas Clinton’s fame did not grow despite her advocating for and supporting women. In fact, it is a surprise that a significant percentage, approximately 43 percent of America’s female electorate, voted for Trump despite his disregard and lack of respect for them. The most puzzling fact is that around 53 percent of white women voted for Trump with only 43 percent of the female, white population voting in favor of Hillary Clinton. With this factor in mind, several political analysts argued that gender was not among the leading factors that influenced the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election (Allcott and Gentzkow 32).

Social media played a prominent role as it provided a platform for candidates to sell their policies and political ideologies to the electorate with the elections focusing primarily on factors such as socioeconomic class rather than gender. While presenting his candidature, which took place through social media, Americans hoped that Trump, being a new candidate in the political arena, would change the economic situation of America (Allcott and Gentzkow 46). Americans believe that inappropriate political ideologies have been some of the key reasons behind economic challenges, such as increasing unemployment rates and inflation. Trump’s social media campaign strategy influenced the negative perceptions and views of the electorate.

From the nominations through to the period before the elections, Trump had the upper hand in the use of social media given his prowess in social media communication, particularly Twitter. He used social media to directly attack his opponents with statements such as “Crooked Hillary” that changed people’s initial perceptions about her. Most importantly, he used the platform to coin and spread the message of making America great again. Indeed, Trump mastered the use of language and exhibited good leadership throughout his campaigns. However, in many other times, he used the platforms to pass across abusive and divisive messages that unfortunately did not prevent him from capturing the nation’s top seat (Allcott and Gentzkow 56).

In a nutshell, social media acted as a focal point for all candidates who participated in the 2016 Presidential elections as they were primarily used to easily and readily reach a large audience. Other than the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections, social media platforms have played a key role in modern society when it comes to having instant access to news and information. It cannot be refuted that that social media has surpassed both print and mass media when it comes to the political arena in the United States today. In fact, it is expected that future U.S. presidential elections will use social media more than the recently concluded one. A thorough and critical analysis of the 2016 election reveals that social media played a significant role when it comes to influencing the perceptions and opinions of the voting population. Majority of the citizens opted to check political news and campaign-related information on social media than read the same from newspapers, magazines, or watch politically-inclined adverts on television. All said and done, Trump’s unexpected triumph in the last presidential election reveals the extent of evolution when it comes to the media arena. Of course, factors such as instant access and relative affordability were behind the wide use of social media in the past presidential election.



Work Cited

Allcott, Hunt, and Matthew Gentzkow. “Social media and fake news in the 2016 election.” Journal of Economic Perspectives31.2 (2017): 211-36.