A group of researchers from the University of Rochester have used Twitter as a lens to examine the supporters of the current presidential front-runners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, using facial analysis of profile photos. The analysis of the gender, race, and age of each candidate’s Twitter followers yielded some surprising findings.
In a paper titled “Deciphering the 2016 U.S. Presidential Campaign in the Twitter Sphere: A Comparison of the Trumpists and Clintonists,” three researchers lay out their endeavor to study the demographics of Trump and Clinton’s respective Twitter followers by analyzing their profile photos, names, geographical information, and number of followers.
“Our study suggests that in terms of social influence the Trumpists are more polarized than the Clintonists: they tend to have either a lot of influence or little influence,” according to the paper. In other words, Trump’s Twitter followers either have just a few followers themselves or hundreds of followers; Clinton’s Twitter followers tend to have a few dozen to about 200 followers. Trump’s Twitter followers lead at both tail ends while Clinton’s followers have a heavier distribution in the middle.
While the perception may be that Clinton has a healthy female supporter base, the University of Rochester researchers found “strong evidence that shows Clinton’s support among average Democratic women has fallen sharply.” Interestingly enough, Clinton (45.4 percent) and Trump (45.4 percent) have nearly identical proportions of female Twitter followers.
When it comes to race, the study found that Clinton’s Twitter followers are more likely to be African-American or Hispanic than Trump’s Twitter followers, who are more likely to be white. This is “consistent with historical voting patterns,” according to the paper’s three authors.
Regarding age, the study found people ages 40 and older accounted for a larger share of Trump’s followers than Clinton’s. “We also find that followers of a very young age (1-17) also make up a larger share in the Trump camp,” according to the paper. “But notice that these very young people are not eligible for voting yet. For followers aged between 18 and 40, they occupy a larger presence among the Clintonists than among the Trumpists.”
“Facial analysis can clearly provide significantly more detail than is available from the other information available on Twitter,” according to MIT Technology Review, which notes that it would be interesting to track how follower profiles for Trump and Clinton change throughout the campaign and in response to real-time events.