Research - 16.03.2016 - 00:00 

Who is voting for Clinton, Trump & Co.?

Campaign strategists for US presidential candidates want to know the voters well, so they can tailor their election campaigns to them. Facebook data about the candidates’ supporters open new perspectives on the candidates. An analysis by Daniel Boller and Prof. Andreas Herrmann. <br/>

17 March 2016. The presidential primary race in the US is in a crunch time – recent weeks have further narrowed the field of presidential candidates on both the Democratic and Republican sides.

The candidates distinguish themselves significantly via their media images. Targeted voters largely determine the campaigns’ profiling and communication strategies, which are primarily designed for and attuned to the candidates’ own voting blocks. Therefore, understanding the candidates’ supporters and their personal circumstances helps to understand the presidential candidates’ campaign strategies.

Social media and networks present new and potentially promising insights into the candidates’ constituencies. In the spring of 2015, 62 percent of US adults over 18 used Facebook on a regular basis (58 percent in the fall of 2014). Overall, the social network had 156.5 million US users in 2015 – an enormous database for analyzing constituencies.

The HSG Institute for Customer Insight analyzed the constituencies of American presidential candidates based on a comprehensive social media study. The analysis is based on 120 million US Facebook users. Data were collected on the basis of Facebook Ads Manager and Facebook Audience Insights tools.

Socio-demographic factors

Relationship status

While John Kasich’s supporters are for the most part in a marriage relationship, Donald Trump’s supporters tend to be single (on the basis of US Facebook users). On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s constituency represents the average American Facebook user. Bernie Sanders is similar to Republican Donald Trump in this measure: his supporters tend to be single.

Illustration 1: Relationship status by candidates (variation in percent from av. American Facebook user)

Academic degree

While Hillary Clinton’s supporters tend to be better-educated members of the middle class, Donald Trump’s supporters generally have only basic academic qualifications. Donald Trump’s profile in this measure is roughly representative of all Republican presidential candidates, except John Kasich, whose supporters tend to have advanced educational degrees compared to the average American Facebook user.

Illustration 2: Academic degree by candidates (variation in percent from av. American Facebook user)


John Kasich’s supporters belong to the classic “middle class” and tend to earn $75,000-$250,000 per year. Kasich has few fans, however, that earn more than $250,000. In contrast, Marco Rubio’s fans are big earners: they are 20 percent more likely to earn more than $500,000 per year. Fans of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson earn the least, on average. The Democratic side shows more differentiation. While Hillary Clinton’s constituency comes from both lowest and highest income groups, Bernie Sanders’ constituency tends to be in the higher-income groups.

Illustration 3: Av. household income by candidates in thousand USD (variation in percent from av. American Facebook user)

Household size

Most of John Kasich’s Facebook fans live in households with four, five or six people. Also, many own a home, and few of them rent. Marco Rubio’s supporters also tend to live with several people, mostly in rented housing. Supporters of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are as likely to own their homes as are the average American Facebook users. Household size is also equivalent to the average. Hillary Clinton’s constituency is primarily organized in small households (one to two people) and lives in rented accommodation more often than the average. In contrast, Bernie Sanders’ constituency tends to come from larger households.

Illustration 4: Average household size by candidates (variation in percent from av. American Facebook user)


Hillary Clinton especially attracts female supporters, while the constituencies of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are made up mostly of male American Facebook users. The remaining presidential candidates differ only marginally in terms of their supporters’ gender.

Illustration 5: Distribution of gender in candidates’ constituencies

Age distribution

Analysis of Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s constituencies shows that preliminary assumptions on voter distribution between the two are supported in the Facebook data. Even during Sanders’ campaign appearances, young voters’ enthusiasm about the goals of the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” was obvious. Facebook data support this thesis: two-thirds of his voters are 34 or younger. By contrast, Clinton draws more than half of her voters in age groups above that. Among Republicans, it is especially striking that male voters predominantly are in the under-34 age group. With almost all remaining candidates, half of male voters can be found in this age group. Female voters are more evenly distributed according to age.

Illustration 5: Distribution of age groups in constituencies by candidates

Data – The analysis is based on 120 million Facebook users in the US. Data were collected on the basis of Facebook Ads Manager and Facebook Audience Insights tools in January 2016. The analyses depicted here concentrate on US presidential candidates as of 13 March 2016. All information is in relation to the average American Facebook user. Data are part of a comprehensive research project.


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