Politics and Twitter Popularity

April 19, 2016

As an engineer of ActBlue I have been following closely the Sanders campaign. Leaving aside his political views, he is a unique candidate leading a historical effort, as the first person to run for president of the USA funded exclusively by small donations.

It is a fact that no political career is viable without the backing of millions of dollars. Citizens United made things worse by allowing unlimited election spending by individuals and corporations. The result is a few affluent people exerting a great deal of power in government.

ActBlue is trying to change this by providing a technology platform that allows the collection of money from ordinary people fast and efficiently. Although ActBlue has existed for over 10 years, Bernie is the first presidential candidate to rely on it as his only source of funding.

Sanders announced in April 30 of last year he was running for president and raised one million dollars in small donations in the first day. During the following 4 months, from May to August, he raised $5 million monthly.

Most people had never heard of Bernie before and challenging someone as popular as Hillary Clinton in the primaries was a little crazy. In August 22nd Hillary had 4 million Twitter followers compared to 590 thousand for Bernie, a huge difference. That is when I decided to write a script and record the number of followers daily for the most popular candidates. It would be a fun little project to see how the numbers evolved as the primaries progressed.

Obviously Twitter popularity does not translate to votes, but some correlation makes sense. To me more important than the follower count itself is its growth rate, how quickly each account is getting new followers.

The only candidate as popular as Hillary was Trump. So I am separating the data in 2 groups, the Multi Million Group with Hillary and Trump and the Single Million with everyone else.

Trump starts with fewer followers but surpasses her after the first Democratic debate in October 13. Growth is clearly on Trump’s side and in my opinion the graph shows that a face off between the two in a general election does not look for Clinton.

It would be a mistake to underestimate the entertainer. Ronald Reagan not only was elected, he is the best president in US history according to Republicans.

In the Single Million Group I am including additional candidates because I wanted to see their behavior after they had dropped out of the race. My apologies to any Kasich supporter reading this for not tracking his numbers.

It is interesting to see what happened on the days of large increases. Carson has the largest rise after the fourth Republican debate (Nov 10). All the candidates see a jump the day of the first Democratic debate (Oct 13). There are also big increases on the second Republican debate (Sep 16).

Ted Cruz has the highest steady rate of increase among Republicans.

Bernie leads on growth with his two accounts: BernieSanders and sensanders, each quadrupled its followers.

And that is all I have, 8 month of data until today, April 19. I am not going to make any predictions. I do not believe anyone can really foresee what is going to happen, even with better information, like poll numbers.

Although half of the states have voted we do not have a clear Democratic winner yet. Bernie has won 8 of the last 9 state primaries, and today is the turn of New York. Hillary has 1,307 delegates and Bernie 1,094 (2,383 are necessary to win the nomination).

Sanders not only has been able to sustain a campaign funded by small donations, he has actually raised more money than any other candidate: 7 million contributions with an average of $27 each, that is $189 millions.

I will keep recording the counts and will post new graphs in the future. In the meantime we, the engineers at ActBlue, are enjoying the challenge of making sure we take all those donations without any disruptions.

Because of the volume, this requires a continuous effort to improve performance. Our current record is from New Hampshire primary night, when Sanders gave his victory speech. He asked people to visit berniesanders.com and donate $27. Our traffic spiked to 333,000 requests per minute, at some point we were processing 44 credit cards per second. That’s right, we were feeling the bern.

The scripts to gather the data, process it and generate the graphs can be found in github