Only three days ago, the U.S. and the rest of the world were counting down the hours to a decisive Hillary Clinton victory on Election Day.
The campaign infrastructure Clinton had assembled, like her performances during the debates, was the epitome of thorough preparation and deep experience in the field. Clinton’s campaign had a keen understanding of its strengths and weaknesses county by county and state by state, and it channeled its considerable resources to where they would do the most good: targeting undecided voters in battleground states.
Not only did the Clinton campaign outspend Donald Trump on TV ads, but it also set up more field offices and was better staffed across the country. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, was a less efficient and elaborate organization, largely reliant on limited Republican National Committee resources and social capital.
Every major poll predicted an easy win for the Democratic nominee in the weeks and months leading into Election Day.
As we know now, the polls were completely out of touch with reality. The rest is history.
But if polls can’t be trusted as an accurate barometer of the American electorate, how else could we have predicted what was going to happen Nov. 8?
Social media holds the key. Analysts monitoring the social media activity of both campaigns on the major channels saw the outcome of this election coming months ago and kept talking about the massive silent voter base that was forming around the Republican nominee. Social media analysts continually sounded the alarm that all of the polls were not reflecting the actual situation on the ground in the pre-election landscape.
In numerous audits that Socialbakers social media analysts ran of both Trump’s and Clinton’s campaigns, evidence mounted that each seeming controversy actually added to Trump’s lead in recent weeks.
Here we can see how often Trump was mentioned on Twitter over the course of his entire campaign, compared with the next seven most-mentioned presidential candidates combined.
Trump’s Facebook posts were shared significantly more than Clinton’s throughout most of their campaigns, and more than either Barack Obama’s or Mitt Romney’s were. The Oct. 7 release of a negative videotape actually increased his shares to new peak levels, showing the eagerness of his base to share his message when it felt threatened by outside opinions.
In the course of his campaign, no moment (until Election Day arrived) expanded Trump’s audience on social media more than what seemed to mainstream and online media outlets like his lowest moment–the Oct. 7 leak of the Access Hollywood video from 2006.
Engagement on social media is an accurate predictor of real-world engagement.
For Trump, that narrative changed at different times, but because he expressed each iteration of his campaign’s messages so convincingly and authentically, his outreach on social media went a long way toward helping him win the election.
Socialbakers had been noticing this trend and pointing out that there was a growing swath of undecided voters that seemed to be engaging with Trump’s messages, and now we can say that social media, through Socialbakers’ technology, has called an election that traditional polling media failed to see coming.
In the last 72 hours of his campaign, Trump’s page posted some of its best-performing social media content to Facebook–messages that rode a vanguard in social media expression to redefine political communication forever.
The future of political movements–and storytelling for media outlets, which function like political campaigns by way of high-quantity publishing strategies–will be told via social media engagement. Socialbakers has the world’s largest social media dataset, and it will continue to monitor elections around the world in the years to come.
Phil Ross is the principle analyst at social analytics company Socialbakers.