It’s impossible to deny that Bernie Sanders, the self-declared socialist senator from Vermont, has made a splash in the U.S. presidential race. With really no other challengers to Hillary Clinton on the Democrats’ ticket, his rise is a welcome development to people who are fans of political competition, and, of course, to everyone in the “anyone but Hillary” camp.
Yet in spite of the hype — or the pockets of hype, as it were — Sanders is trailing Clinton significantly in the polls. He’s got the vote in Vermont wrapped up, but that’s about it.
According to the latest Real Clear Politics aggregation of polls, as of Oct. 21, Clinton maintains a lead of about 22 percentage points: 48% to 26%. Vice President Joe Biden, who just bowed out of the race, comes in third at just under 19%, but given his establishment credentials, it’s tough to say whether his supporters would flock to Sanders.
Sanders’ case is particularly interesting for those of us in the social media business because he’s running an extraordinary campaign on social. On Twitter, he is coming up on 800,000 followers. Sounds impressive, for sure, except when one checks out Clinton’s 4.5 million followers. But followers aren’t everything.
In the last month, according to our data, Sanders actually has received more interactions from followers — favorites and retweets — than Clinton (1.2 million vs. Clinton’s 850,000), and more interactions per day (41,000 to 29,000).
A lot of that was driven by Sanders’ #DebateWithBernie stunt he pulled off during one of the Republican debates in September. He took to Twitter to assail nearly every point any of the Republican candidates made, became a trending topic in the process, and actually stole the show in a lot of the post-debate coverage.
On Facebook, Sanders (1.8 million) has pulled even with Clinton (1.6 million) in terms of Fans, and the two are garnering roughly the same engagement numbers — both have just over 3 million interactions (Likes, Comments and Shares) over the last month.
It’s worth noting, though, that a solid 20% of Sanders’ Facebook interactions are shares, compared to just 8% for Clinton — and shares are the most valuable form of interaction in terms of spreading the shared content throughout users’ Facebook News Feeds.
Despite all of this, Sanders still trails significantly in the race for the nomination. This is the central reality around social media and elections — it’s an indicator, but just one of many. In fact, despite all the buzz, the closest Sanders has been to Clinton in the polls is 13 points — and that was on the heels of his #DebateWithBernie tweetstorm in September.
Sanders supporters — and even people who are just generally inclined to want diverse voices in mainstream politics — obviously have reason to celebrate, of course. Clearly, social media has given Sanders and his backers a real voice in the race and it’s not unreasonable to say that his candidacy wouldn’t be where it is today without the connected masses.
This is all not to say that public opinion polls are 100% reliable for predicting returns — and one big primary win for Sanders could change everything. Nonetheless, the fact remains: It’s going to take a lot more than Likes, Shares and retweets for Sanders to become the Democrats’ nominee for the White House in 2016.