Tuesday, September 10, 2019

2019-09-10: Twitter Follower Growth for the 2020 Democratic Candidates

Figure 1: Popularity measure of the candidates labeled on the basis of their Twitter follower growth in absolute number and percentage
There are more than 20 candidates running for the 2020 Democratic party Presidential nomination but everyone knows there will be only one winner. Since only a handful of the candidates have a real shot of receiving the nomination, the question then arises "why are so many candidates running for their party's nomination?" One answer is that running for the nomination increases a candidate's national media coverage and the resulting popularity creates a launchpad for their future endeavors. This is clearly evident in case of candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang, both of whom have enjoyed increased national exposure regardless of the outcome of the primaries. Since "popularity" is hard to define and quantify, we use the Twitter followers for each candidate as a proxy for their popularity. The absolute and relative increase in the Twitter followers since January 1, 2019 can then be an indicator if the candidates' efforts have been worthwhile in increasing the size of their audience.

Previous Works on Study of Twitter Follower Growth 


FiveThirtyEight published their two-article series about the NBC and CNN Democratic debates where they analyzed each candidate based on five criteria. One of the criteria was the Twitter follower growth chart from the night of the debate to the following afternoon.
Figure 2: Twitter follower growth for Democratic candidates after the NBC debate between the night of the debate and the following afternoon. 
Source: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-first-democratic-debate-in-five-charts/
Figure 3: Twitter follower growth for Democratic candidates after the CNN debate between the night of the debate and the following afternoon. 
Source: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-second-democratic-debate-in-5-charts/
Although FiveThirtyEight captures the immediate effect on an event using the Twitter follower growth, there are other major events such as their campaign announcement and appearing on T.V. shows talking about their candidacy which also affect their overall Twitter follower growth. 
For a better understanding of the Twitter follower growth as a measure of a candidate's popularity, we need to include all the events that have happened in a candidate's campaign until today which requires us to study their historical Twitter information. Miranda Smith in her post "Twitter Follower Count History via the Internet Archive" explains the reason for using the web archives over the Twitter API for finding historical information of Twitter follower count. In this post, we will rework the analysis done by Miranda Smith on the Democratic candidates using the web archives to gather their historical information and present a broader view of the Twitter follower growth for each candidate in 2019.

How we built our data set


We used the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries Wikipedia webpage on August 24, 2019 to create our baseline of the candidates. On August 24, 2019, we found 21 candidates to be running for the presidential elections and five candidates had already withdrawn. With 24 of the 26 candidates announcing their candidacy in 2019, we limited our study between January 1, 2019 and August 23, 2019. We used the same Twitter handle for all the 21 candidates mentioned in the FiveThirtyEight article and for the rest of the candidates we used the Twitter accounts which mentioned their 2020 Presidential candidacy in their Twitter bio.
We collected mementos from multiple web archives using MemGator for all the Twitter handles between January 1, 2019 and August 23, 2019 and retrieved the follower count from each memento to build our data set of historical follower count information.

Results   


Table 1 is a sortable table which contains the follower count growth in absolute numbers and in percentage, start follower count, end follower count, memento date range, and Twitter handle for all the candidates. Memento date range for a candidate represents the start and the end time of all the mementos collected from the web archives for their Twitter account. Increase represents the increase in absolute number of Twitter followers for a candidate from the first memento to the last memento. Increase% represents the percentage increase in the follower count for a candidate with respect to their first memento follower count.

   
There are two possible reasons why all candidates do not have mementos in the web archives for their Twitter handles on or near 2019-01-01:
  • Archiving rate correlates with popularity, so candidates who were less popular are likely to have a lower archival rate. Pete Buttigieg's Twitter account, @petebuttigieg, has 329 mementos in 2019 which is in contrast with the 70 mementos between 2012 and 2018. The high archival rate of his Twitter account can be attributed to the meteoric rise in his Twitter followers by 1.3M. Although Marianne Williamson has 2.6M Twitter followers, she was archived thrice by the Internet Archive between January and March 2019. So, the correlation between archival rate and popularity might not hold in all the situations. 
  • The web archives index their mementos by their URLs (URI-R). A change in the Twitter handle creates a new URL for the same web page. In order to fetch all the mementos for a Twitter account, we need to query the web archives with both the URLs which includes the previous and current Twitter handle URLs. Andrew Yang changed his Twitter handle from @andrewyangvfa to @andrewyang which changed the URL to his Twitter account. Therefore, the first memento for @andrewyang in the Internet Archive is from March 21, 2019. John Hickenlooper (@hickforco to @hickenlooper), John Delaney (@JDelaneyforMD to @JohnKDelaney to @johndelaney), and Michael Bennet (@BennetForCO to @MichaelBennet) have also changed their Twitter handles to reflect their shift from state to national focus.   

Table 1: List of all the Democratic Candidates with their follower count increase in 2019.
"1" represents the first Democratic debates held on the NBC. "2" represents the second Democratic debate held on the CNN. "3" represents the third Democratic debate to be held on 2019-09-12 on ABC. "D" represents the candidates who have dropped out as on 2019-08-24.
Name
TwitterHandle
Memento Date Range Start Follower Count End Follower Count Increase Increase%
Michael Bennet
1, 2
@michaelbennet
18 May - 23 Aug 21,210 38,267 17,057 80.42
Joe Biden
1, 2, 3
@joebiden
01 Jan - 23 Aug 3,175,558 3,690,554 514,996 16.22
Cory Booker
1, 2, 3
@corybooker
03 Jan - 23 Aug 4,083,584 4,341,153 257,569 6.31
Pete Buttigieg
1, 2, 3
@petebuttigieg
24 Jan - 23 Aug 94,963 1,383,508 1,288,545 1356.90
Julian Castro
1, 2, 3
@juliancastro
02 Jan - 23 Aug 136,275 373,432 237,157 174.03
Bill de Blasio
1, 2
@billdeblasio
10 Jan - 23 Aug 139,293 168,092 28,799 20.68
John Delaney
1, 2
@johndelaney
16 Apr - 23 Aug 19,201 35,595 16,394 85.38
Steve Bullock
2
@governorbullock
02 Jan - 20 Aug 166,137 184,448 18,311 11.02
Tulsi Gabbard
1, 2
@tulsigabbard
01 Feb - 23 Aug 216,704 537,745 321,041 148.15
Kamala Harris
1, 2, 3
@kamalaharris
01 Jan - 23 Aug 1,990,349 3,071,524 1,081,175 54.32
Amy Klobuchar
1, 2, 3
@amyklobuchar
24 Jan - 23 Aug 566,492 751,017 184,525 32.57
Beto O'Rourke
1, 2, 3
@betoorourke
01 Jan - 23 Aug 1,111,690 1,553,346 441,656 39.73
Tim Ryan
1, 2
@timryan
16 Apr - 20 Aug 18,116 36,434 18,318 101.12
Bernie Sanders
1, 2, 3
@berniesanders
01 Jan - 23 Aug 8,943,122 9,580,209 637,087 7.12
Elizabeth Warren
1, 2, 3
@ewarren
03 Jan - 23 Aug 2,172,769 3,041,438 868,669 39.98
Marianne Williamson
1, 2
@marwilliamson
05 Mar - 20 Aug 2,602,291 2,758,962 156,671 6.02
Andrew Yang
1, 2, 3
@andrewyang
27 Mar - 23 Aug 200,361 713,462 513,101 277.02
Kirsten Gillibrand
1, 2
@sengillibrand
02 Jan - 23 Aug 1,297,306 1,461,659 164,353 12.67
Joe Sestak
@joesestak
25 Jun - 20 Aug 10,715 12,346 1,631 15.22
Wayne Messam
@waynemessam
16 Apr - 21 Aug 5,834 8,415 2,581 44.24
Eric Swalwell
1, D
@ericswalwell
01 Jan - 20 Aug 23,873 107,484 83,611 350.23
John Hickenlooper
1, 2, D
@hickenlooper
13 Mar - 23 Aug 135,774 159,947 24,172 17.80
Jay Inslee
1, 2, D
@jayinslee
01 Jan - 20 Aug 30,614 105,935 75,321 246.03
Tom Steyer
@tomsteyer
01 Jan - 20 Aug 211,202 244,384 33,182 15.71
Mike Gravel
@mikegravel
04 Apr - 21 Aug 40,497 131,905 91,408 225.72
Seth Moulton
D
@sethmoulton
06 Feb - 20 Aug 135,481 147,289 11,808 8.72





Table 2: Table lists all the candidates into each category based on their increase in follower count in numbers and percentage
Low % Increase in Follower Count High % Increase in Follower Count 
High Increase in Follower Count Already Popular
@marwilliamson
155K, 6%

@sengillibrand
165K, 13%

@amyklobuchar
185K, 32%

@corybooker
260K, 6%

@betoorourke
440K, 40%

@joebiden
515K, 16%

@berniesanders
640K, 7%

@ewarren
870K, 40%

@kamalaharris
1.1M, 55%
Big Winners
@juliancastro
240K, 175%

@tulsigabbard
320K, 150%

@andrewyang
515K, 275%

@petebuttigieg
1.3M, 1350%
Low Increase in Follower Count Nobody Noticed
@joesestak
1.5K, 15%

@waynemessam
2.5K, 44%

@sethmoulton
11K, 9%

@johndelaney
16K, 85%

@michaelbennet
17K, 80%

@governorbullock
18K, 11%

@hickenlooper
24K, 18%

@billdeblasio
29K, 21%

@tomsteyer
33K, 16%
Beneficial
@timryan
18K, 101%

@jayinslee
75K, 245%

@ericswalwell
84K, 350%

@mikegravel

90K, 225%


Figure 4: @billdeblasio added 29K followers with growth rate of 21% and is an example from the "Nobody Noticed" category

Figure 5: @berniesanders added 640K followers with growth rate of 7% and is an example from the "Already Popular" category 
Figure 6: @ericswalwell added 84K followers with growth rate of 350% and is an example from the "Beneficial" category 
Figure 7: @petebuttigieg added 1.3M followers with growth rate of 1350% and is an example from the "Big Winners" category 

Some observations:
  • Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders already have a large number of Twitter followers, so even though the absolute size of their increase is large, their relative increase is small. This matches our intuition of them both being nationally recognized names for whom their candidacies are not about setting up their "next move".
  • Since January 2019, Pete Buttigieg's Twitter account has witnessed an increase in his follower count by 1.3M, similar to Andrew Yang who witnessed a Twitter follower rise of 515K. The meteoric rise in their Twitter followers is in congruence with both the candidates becoming nationally recognized names within a span of months.    
  • The top three candidates with the lowest Twitter follower growth (@JoeSestak, @WayneMessam, and @SethMoulton) have not appeared in any debate.
  • Except for Senator Tulsi Gabbard, all the other ten candidates from the top 11 candidates who have the highest growth in their Twitter follower count will be appearing in the third Democratic debate on September 12, 2019. This matches our intuition of using Twitter followers as a proxy for measuring the popularity of candidates.
We analyzed the follower counts for 26 Democratic candidates and used their Twitter followers growth as a proxy to measure their popularity. We categorized four Twitter handles to be the big winners, four in the beneficial, nine in the already popular, and nine in the nobody noticed category based on the threshold value of 100K and 100% Twitter follower growth in absolute number and percentage growth. The ten candidates who will appearing in the third debate make up the top 11 highest gainers of Twitter followers matching our intuition of using Twitter followers as a proxy to measure the popularity of candidates.
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Mohammed Nauman Siddique
(@m_nsiddique)

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