Despite having over 61.9 million followers on the platform and tweeting several times per day, President Donald Trump has been critical of Twitter of late, as the company was excluded from last week’s White House Social Media Summit (as was Facebook), and Trump directed his administration to “explore all regulatory and legislative solutions to protect the free speech rights of all Americans.”
Pew Research Center examined followers of @realDonaldTrump, as well as former President Barack Obama (@BarackObama), among its nationally representative sample of 2,388 U.S. adults who use Twitter, basing its estimates on the 87% of people in that group with public-facing accounts.
The research firm cautioned in a blog post outlining its findings, “While considerable shares of adult Twitter users in the U.S. follow Trump and other political figures, it’s important to keep in mind that relatively few Americans are on Twitter in the first place. Overall, 22% of U.S. adults say they use the platform, and those who do tend to be younger and more Democratic than the overall public, according to a Pew Research Center study earlier this year. Taking this into account, only a small share of Americans overall follow any individual politician on Twitter. For example, based on the analysis, a single-digit share of all U.S. adults are on Twitter and follow @realDonaldTrump. The same holds true for @BarackObama.”
Pew found that 19% of U.S. adult Twitter users follow @realdonaldtrump on Twitter, compared with 26% who follow @BarackObama.
The only other former president with a Twitter account is Bill Clinton, and his @BillClinton is followed by 6% of U.S. adults.
Party lines came into play, as 31% of Republican and Republican-leaning adult U.S. Twitter users follow Trump, while just 13% of Democratic or Democratic-leaning users do so.
Conversely, 38% of Democratic or Democratic-leaning respondents follow Obama, versus just 9% of Republican or Republican-leaning users.
Respondents who said they post political content to Twitter were most likely to follow the current and former occupants of The White House.
Pew found that 34% of adult U.S. Twitter users who post political content follow Trump, while 51% follow Obama. Among those who said they never tweet about politics, 15% follow Trump and 18% follow Obama.
Twitter users who follow Trump appear to be satisfied with his body of work, as Pew found that 54% of Trump followers approved of his job performance as of late 2018, compared with 24% of non-followers.
On the Democratic side, 14% of U.S. adult Twitter users followed at least one of the party’s 20 candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination as of this month. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) led the way, with 6% of those users.
According to Pew, 21% of U.S. Twitter users with public accounts follow at least one member of Congress, with 17% following at least one Democratic member and 8% at least one Republican member.
Pew computational social scientist focusing on data science Stefan Wojcik, associate director of data labs Adam Hughes and data science assistant Emma Remy wrote in their blog post, “Still, tweets sent by political figures—particularly the president—often have far more reach than these estimates alone might suggest. Many Americans are exposed to Trump’s tweets even if they don’t follow him on the platform, such as through retweets, quote tweets or in media coverage. Trump himself has noted as much: In a June TV interview, he said, ‘I put it out, and then it goes onto your platform. It goes onto ABC. It goes onto the networks. It goes onto all over cable. It’s an incredible way of communicating.’”