Twitter and the 2016 Presidential Race

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The Internet has long been central to politics, but somehow Twitter seems more in tune with its current mood than ever before. 140-character statements and hashtags replace analysis. Rumors and oversimplifications spread without restraint.

At least that’s the popular picture of Twitter. You can also follow feeds that link to thoughtful articles and present reliable news. It’s easy to follow a variety of viewpoints, giving a more complete view of the debates. But who really does that?

All the major presidential candidates in 2016 have Twitter accounts. They’ve used them to push their views and mock their opponents. Sometimes they’ve argued directly with each other.

Has this had an effect? Bernie Sanders’ unexpected success in the Democratic primaries could be partly due to his effective use of Twitter; he has had more mentions than Clinton, and the hashtag #FeelTheBern has grown very familiar. As of this writing, he has just short of two million followers.

Donald Trump may have made the most effective use of Twitter, issuing outrageous statements that both supporters and opponents retweet. He stands at over eight million followers. They provide a record of his constantly changing statements, but that doesn’t seem to have hurt him — so far.

Whether it will serve him as well in the November election is less clear. In the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo argues that the election is very different from the primary, and that his approach may antagonize more people than it wins.

Clinton, his likely opponent, trails him in the Twitter race with 6.3 million followers. She takes a more restrained approach, but that hasn’t stopped her from flatly stating that Trump isn’t qualified to be president. She makes significantly more use of links and card tweets than he does.

Whoever wins, people will argue for a long time about whether their use of social media, including Twitter, helped or hurt them. So many factors are in play that it’s impossible to know with certainty.

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