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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What the Trump Defeat in Iowa Says about the Limits of Social Media

I don't think I've seen anyone mention this as yet, so I'll make the point here:  I think Trump's defeat in Iowa last night, coming in a clear second to Ted Cruz, says something about the limits of social media.

Or at least that a superior number of Twitter followers did not equate to success in a political caucus. Trump has 5.99 million followers on Twitter.   Cruz has 779 thousand.   I have no idea how many of them are in Iowa, but Cruz's victory in Iowa shows that Twitter clout isn't all it's cracked up to be - at least, not politically - and that other factors enter in voters choices in caucuses.

Ron Paul actually learned a similar lesson back in 2008.   Twitter was much smaller then, but there was a lot of political action on Digg, which operated like Reddit does now, and was much bigger than Reddit back then.   In those days, editorials and other articles on the Internet praising Ron Paul were regularly voted up to the front page of Digg by its readers.   Articles about Ron Paul dominated Digg for months and months.  But when the primaries came, Ron Paul was in single digits.  (For more on social media in the election of 2008, see my New New Media.)

Hillary and Bernie are more equally matched now on Twitter - Hillary has 5.28 million followers, in comparison to Bernie's 1.3 million and 1.33 million on his two active accounts - which makes it no surprise, Twitter-wise, that the two finished so neck-and-neck in Iowa.   Or even that Hillary won, albeit by the most narrow margin.

But unlike the Democrats, for which numbers of Twitter followers were roughly in synch with the Iowa results, the defeat of Trump given his huge Twitter presence says something else.   Likely the reason for the Trump discrepancy has something to do with the nature of his Tweets, and what it is about them and him that attracts so many followers.   Unlike Hillary and Bernie and Cruz, Trump's in fact have very little political content, trafficking instead in broad insults and truculent declarations.  It may well be that these are fun to read but insufficient to galvanize true political support.  Which would certainly be a good thing for our country.

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