5 Tweets From the 2020 Presidential Candidates That Drove the Most Engagement

Trump and Biden's Twitter activity tells us what messaging people respond to the most

Illustration of Trump and Biden with the Twitter logo
Biden's numbers jump up whenever he engages in a bit of trolling. Trent Joaquin/Getty Images
Headshot of Jess Zafarris

Joe Biden became perhaps the most prominent voice in the Twitter chatter around Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate with a bit of trolling about the fly that lingered in Vice President Mike Pence’s hair. 

The former vice president and current presidential candidate was far from the only one to notice that a fly spent a few minutes squatting on Pence’s white locks during the debate against Biden’s running mate Sen. Kamala Harris. However, Biden’s tweet about the insect, which is still racking up hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets, quickly became his third most popular tweet of the year.

“Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly,” Biden tweeted, along with a photo of himself holding a fly swatter and a link to his campaign’s donation page. Less than an hour later, a “Truth Over Flies Fly Swatter” was available in the campaign’s online shop. 

This tweet’s massive success—890,000 likes and rising—raises the question: What gets the most attention for these two presidential candidates on Twitter in a year unlike any other?

Adweek took a look at the numbers on Twitter analytics platforms Social Bearing and the Trump Twitter Archive to find out which of Joe Biden and President Donald Trump’s tweets have resonated the most since April when Biden became the de facto Democratic nominee and the run-up to the election began in earnest.

The rest of Joe Biden’s 2020 election season tweets by engagement

If teasing his vice presidential successor about his attractiveness to flies is a recipe for success, straightforwardly insulting the president himself performed even better.

It turns out that trolling has long been a reliably high-engagement strategy for the former vice president. Whenever the normally fairly “safe” and reserved Biden adds a little bit of bite to his social messaging, it tends to blow up, and this was certainly the case when he clapped back at Trump’s claim that injecting or consuming cleaning products could cure the coronavirus.

Why think up your own clever tweet when you can just use your opponents words? A 10-second video of Trump saying we’ll never see him again if he loses the election proved to be words of comfort—and humor—for Biden’s voter base.

And of course, if trolling isn’t appropriate for every occasion, how about some good old fashioned motivation? Biden rallied followers on Oct. 3 with a simple message that racked up more than 1 million likes.

Trump’s top 2020 election season tweets by engagement

For Trump’s tweets, we utilized the Trump Twitter Archive, which aggregates all of the president’s tweets and their performance from his handle @realdonaldtrump.

Trump’s top-performing post was the announcement of his and Melania Trump’s Covid-19 diagnoses, which included messages of unity that are not always a feature of the president’s messaging. The diagnosis made such waves three of the president’s five top tweets since April surround it. 

Trump’s campaign strategy, both in 2016 and 2020, has largely hinged on the identification of what he and his voter base believe to be enemies. This tactic has included targeting the amorphous organization Antifa, which has been partially blamed for activity during racial justice protests across the U.S. following the death of George Floyd. The response to this tweet was fueled not only by support for the message, but opposition and news organizations covering the claim. The claim currently has no legs, however. Senate Resolution 279, which calls “for the designation of Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization,” was introduced in July of last year, but it has not been passed.

@JessZafarris jessica.zafarris@adweek.com Jess Zafarris is an audience engagement editor at Adweek.