Your midterm social media leaderboard
Which candidates have the largest and most engaged audiences online?
Next Tuesday brings to a close several competitive primaries from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. While many in the political world remain focused on ad expenditures and polling data, we wanted to do a quick dive into how the campaigns have built followings and sustained engagement on social media.
Which U.S. Senate or Gubernatorial campaigns have the most followers across different social platforms? Which candidates are receiving the most engagement? Who’s the king or queen of TikTok? FWIW, the answer may surprise you.
By the numbers
FWIW, here were the top-spending political advertisers on Meta platforms (Facebook + Instagram) last week:
Abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood Action Fund were the top political ad spenders on Facebook and Instagram last week. The organizations unsurprisingly launched new ad campaigns to turn the crisis-situation for reproductive rights into a mobilization moment.
Among 2022 candidates, Rep. Val Demings’ campaign led the pack, spending over $300,000 on fundraising ads, many focused on the coming Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Meanwhile, here were the top political advertisers on Google platforms last week, including YouTube:
Democratic campaigns and progressive organizations essentially swept Google and YouTube advertising last week, with Illinois Governor JB Pritzker once again leading the pack. The re-election campaigns of both CA Gov. Gavin Newsom and NY Gov. Kathy Hochul began spending heavily on the platform for the first time in a while, running YouTube ads about abortion rights.
Lastly, here are the top political ad spenders on Snapchat so far this year:
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Four years of political ad transparency
Four years ago this month, Facebook (now Meta) launched a searchable database of all political ads running on its sites. The move was quickly followed by other digital ad platforms (including Google, Snapchat, Twitter, Reddit, and Roku) providing some type of political ad transparency in the Iead-up to the 2020 election.
Since then, these valuable data sources provided researchers, journalists, and the public with a comprehensive look at paid political influence campaigns online - and set a new standard for transparency that should be expanded in the future. Here’s a look at what we’ve learned and where we think the industry should go next >>
Your midterm social media leaderboard
Next Tuesday brings to a close several competitive primaries from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. While many in the political world remain focused on ad expenditures and polling data, we wanted to do a quick dive into how the campaigns have built followings and sustain engagement organically on social media. Which U.S. Senate or gubernatorial campaigns have the most followers across different social platforms? Scroll below for detailed charts:
Here are the battleground U.S. Senate candidates with the largest audiences across 5 platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube.
If Dr. Oz is able to squeak out a win in next Tuesday’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, it will be due in no small part to sky-high name ID from his decades as a celebrity doctor on cable television. Before he became a Trump-backed carpetbagger, Oz built a massive following across every major social network - and he is now able to reach those audiences with campaign messaging and fundraising appeals.
Notably, Oz is the midterm candidate with the largest following on TikTok, where he spouts Trumpian rhetoric to his 1.2 million followers. He’s also been savaged for a now-infamous video of him shopping for produce.
Among Democratic Senate campaigns, Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock leads the field in terms of audience size. That’s likely due to the surge of support and resources his campaign received in the 2020 general election and the January 2021 runoff that gave Democrats a majority on Capitol Hill. His combined social audience is twice as large as his likely opponent, former football great Herschel Walker.
…and here are the battleground gubernatorial candidates with the largest audiences across the same 5 platforms:
Anchored by a huge 2 million followers on Instagram and 2.7 million on Twitter, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams has the largest social following among midterm gubernatorial candidates. She regularly uses her Insta to highlight rallies and other events across Georgia. On the Republican side, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron Desantis unsurprisingly boast large audiences, particularly on Facebook and Twitter.
Want to see the audiences for all competitive statewide midterm candidates? View our little dashboard here >>
What good’s having an audience if you don’t know how to use it?
Owned audience size clearly matters, but which candidates are drawing the most engagement (likes, shares, comments), on average, across their posts? Data from public posts on Facebook over the past 30 days shows that again Dr. Oz tops the list, but this time is followed in 2nd place by dark horse candidate for U.S. Senate Kathy Barnette.
That little-known Barnette is casually racking up more interactions on Facebook than nearly every other U.S. Senate candidate nationwide is… *checks notes*... a big deal.
This Facebook engagement data reveals some other interesting trends. For instance, although Raphael Warnock has a Facebook audience three times the size of his opponent, Herschel Walker, Walker has received more post interactions over the past 30 days.
Similarly in gubernatorial races, QAnon-associated PA Gov candidate Doug Mastriano consistently receives more post engagement than other candidates with much larger audiences:
Changing platform distribution
Although it definitely still helps to have a large following on sites like Facebook, “owned” audiences might matter less and less in the future. That’s because Facebook and Instagram are following TikTok’s lead in distributing content to viewers from creators they don’t already follow. This presents an opportunity for campaigns to focus on gaming algorithms for their content to be discovered by new viewers, rather than simply broadcasting messages out to their own audiences.
At the end of the day, these types of metrics are good barometers of supporter enthusiasm, especially this close to primary Election Day. In the case of Pennsylvania’s Senate race, leading campaigns have spent tens of millions of dollars on TV ads, only to see a little-known conservative breakout surge in the polls - and on social media. We’ll see what happens next Tuesday. 👀