Cultural Trends

It’s not going out on a limb to say that social media played a major role in winning the presidential election for Donald Trump by enabling him to fight hostile coverage and bypass the mainstream media and speak directly to his supporters. It’s been pointed out time and time again, including by Trump himself during an interview that aired on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday night.

“When you give me a bad story or when you give me an inaccurate story… I have a method of fighting back,” said Trump, who will take the oath of office on Jan. 20.

But the social space has been more than just a venue for President-elect Trump to rally supporters, call for corrections or seek vengeance, it’s a place where he can turn negative energy into positive.

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A review of ZEFR data on YouTube trends during the 2016 election cycle shows that Trump-related views didn’t just rise when he said or did something newsworthy. They spiked when the Republican candidate was attacked, and they spiked when the mainstream media was focused on his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

In late February, after Trump won several primaries, comedian John Oliver delivered a scathing monolog on his HBO show “Last Week with John Oliver.” That week, Trump’s YouTube views soared to over 80 million, double what they were just two weeks previous. A large portion of those were for the official clip of Oliver’s rant, which has racked up more than 30 million views to date.

Trump-related YouTube views soared into the 80 million range again during the week of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in late April, where President Obama mocked Trump for not being in attendance, and later in his speech added, “Next year at this time, someone else will be standing here in this very spot. And it’s anyone’s guess who she will be.” (Trump was the target of repeated barbs from the president when he attended the correspondents’ dinner in 2011, which many have speculated spurred him to run for president.)

The most dramatic jump in Trump-related views came in the wake of a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Aug 9, where the candidate told the crowd, “If she gets to pick her judges ― nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people, maybe there is,” which suggested to some that he was calling for assassination.

While his true intent may be debatable, the affect on viewer interest was clear – views of Trump-related videos on YouTube rose by some 70 million over the previous week, hitting the 150 million range, an all-time high up to that point in the election cycle. At the same time, the popularity of Clinton-related YouTube videos also spiked, hitting about 80 million weekly views.

Two weeks earlier, Clinton scored a then-high number of weekly views, in the 95 million range, during the Democratic National Convention (DNC). That bested the 80 million-plus views Trump got during the Republican National Convention (RNC), but he outperformed her during the DNC, racking up some 100 million YouTube views, suggesting the attention paid his opponent only drove more interest in him.

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In October, the final full month of the campaign, Clinton briefly pulled ahead of Trump in YouTube views the week of their third presidential debate. But in the last week of the month – when FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to congress stating it could be reopening its probe of Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State – Trump and Clinton were neck and neck, with about 220 million weekly views apiece.

But from election day, Nov. 8, through the following Friday, Trump was back to his winning ways on YouTube, with 176.2 million views, up 34.3% over the previous week, to Clinton’s 106.9 million, which were down 40.7%.

The pollsters and pundits who were picking Clinton to win as election day loomed would’ve benefited from examining ZEFR’s sentiment analysis of the candidates’ YouTube views for October. Clinton’s negative views were 35%, while Trump’s were at 33%. Perhaps more tellingly, only 8% of Clinton’s views were deemed to be positive, while Trump’s positives were at 17%. But it was in overall view count where Trump truly demonstrated his supremacy, averaging 75.2 million views a week since Jan. 4, compared to Clinton’s 54.36 million a week during the same period.

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Ironically, YouTube viewers were less interested in Trump’s win than they were in Clinton’s loss. Trump’s victory speech (12 million-plus views for 229 videos) was edged out by Clinton’s concession speech (13.7 million-plus views for 371 videos).

This suggests two interesting possibilities: It’s not very satisfying to hate watch a victory, and even Trump supporters might be a little less passionate about their choice now that the race is run and the Washington outsider they rooted for is poised to become a Washington insider.