Digitally Slow Joe Boosted by Kamala’s Social Media Sizzle

Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are getting a social media bump but still trail Donald Trump.

Social media users were clicking and sharing items about Joe Biden more than ever before—thanks to his new running mate, Kamala Harris.

Social media engagement with stories about Biden hit its highest level this year the week the Democratic presidential candidate named Harris, the U.S. senator from California, to the ticket.

“Twenty-one of the 25 most engaged stories about Biden last week were directly to do with Biden picking her as VP,” Benedict Nicholson, head of research and editorial at NewsWhip, said in an email. The company tracks how content performs on social media.

Stories about Biden, nominated Aug. 18 during the Democratic National Convention, received 64 million interactions between shares, comments and likes on social media Aug. 10-16, according to NewsWhip data.

A majority of the engagement came from Facebook, with a smaller portion attributed to influential Twitter accounts and Pinterest pins.

Biden’s two prior peaks were in early March, when U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary and endorsed Biden, Nicholson said.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont ending his campaign in April gave Biden another bump, Nicholson said.

Social media engagement with stories about President Donald Trump has overshadowed that of his challenger. Trump hit his low this year the week of March 2, with 80 million interactions, and he peaked the week of Feb. 3, when the Republican-led U.S. Senate acquitted him on impeachment charges, with 253 million engagements, according to Nicholson.

Trump’s announcement of Indiana’s Mike Pence as his running mate July 15, 2016, did little to boost social media engagement.

“Articles specifically mentioning him saw around 3 million engagements that week. Trump articles got 21 million engagements that week,” Nicholson said. “This was a middling number. January through end of August, the weekly low was 11.5 million and the high was 58.5 million.”

While Biden stories received a magnitude more in engagements compared with the week Trump named Pence as his running mate, “there’s not a huge amount of apples to apples comparison that we can make” because social media interactions, in general, have increased since 2016, Nicholson said.

Social media has become a more significant part of the political process than previous election cycles, said Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I think it’s more about the person that people are responding to as opposed to the four-year difference,” he said. “Pence is not that exciting. Pence is like the Biden now and Kamala is like the Trump then.”

(Edited by Lisa Neff and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.) 

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