Twitter wars: Which 2016 candidate wields the most social media power?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigning in West Virginia. (AP photos)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – Presidential campaigns used to come down to whichever candidate raised more money and ran better commercials.

In 2016, it’s far more complex when factoring in the amorphous, driving force of the Internet.

Social media is playing a pivotal role in this election cycle that was once unimaginable. A juicy tweet leads national news. Barbed Instagram videos get long newspaper write-ups. Facebook jabs earn tens of thousands of likes.

Presidential Twitter power

President Barack Obama’s team was the first to fully embrace – and exploit – the online world in 2008 as they turned a junior senator’s budding campaign into a sprawling e-behemoth.

Today, President Obama boasts 75.1 million followers. His @POTUS account has 7.7 million fans.

5.4 million users follow First Lady Michelle Obama on Twitter, and 4.3 on her @FLOTUS account.

The two leading candidates to next occupy the White House, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have some ground to make up compared to Mr. Obama.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, is followed by 8.3 million fans on Twitter, who are treated to his daily stream of consciousness – a goodly mix of musings and rants that have become a 2016 mainstay.

Likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton trails Trump by a few million followers, claiming 6.3 million on Twitter.

To put that in perspective, Beyoncé has 14.4 million followers and has tweeted a grand total of nine times.

Help from Hollywood

Campaigns are leveraging more than Trump and Clinton’s substantial but limited personal followings.

Celebrity supporters multiply their favorite candidates’ reach exponentially, serving as a conduit to their own fan bases, which often include tens of millions of untapped potential voters.

Clinton certainly seems to have the market cornered in the celebrity Twitter department.

Katy Perry is Twitter’s most-followed celebrity, with 88.8 million fans. She’s also a huge Hillary supporter, regularly showering her fans with pro-Clinton messages and #imwithher hashtags.

Other mainstream celebs like Demi Lovato (36.1 million) and Leo DiCaprio (15.3 million) lend their voices to Clinton and widen her media presence among Dem-friendly millennials.

Trump struggles with the A-lister crowd, but does well enough with big names who lean right.

Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson backs the New York City billionaire, bringing his 5 million followers along with him.

A smaller group of conservative Hollywood types also add their followings, including Ted Nugent (277,000), Kid Rock (333,000) and Hulk Hogan (1.5 million).

In addition to Twitter, campaigns are also jumping on other popular platforms this cycle, from Instagram to Facebook to Snapchat, to grab as many eyes as possible.

See a list of the top 100 Twitter accounts here.

Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales

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