How Much Attention Should Political Bettors Pay to Social Media?

Social media has influenced our lives in ways we can’t even fathom, but never does it seem as prevalent as when there’s an important political event. The suggestion that politics should be avoided as a conversation topic doesn’t gel with platforms such as Twitter and, during high-stakes elections, much of it is filled with people arguing with one another. The looming US Presidential election can’t be avoided across social media. One corner makes it seem as though Biden will easily sweep it, with celebrities sharing messages about pledging money and calling representatives for the swing states. Elsewhere it feels as though Trump will walk his second term. But how important is social media for those looking to get into political betting?

When looking at political betting, there are many events to wager on for the US Presidential election, all of which could be influenced by social media. The most prominent is deciding who will be the next President, but other factors such as how the swing states will turn out can also be bet on. The odds for these events are taken from polls of who is likely to win, so gauging opinion could be useful in deciding which way to bet. As such, paying attention to social media seems helpful to glean some knowledge of opinions across the country and in individual states.

Many say that social media acts as an echo chamber, so isn’t a reliable way of gauging public opinion. The 2016 US Presidential election makes this clear. Dozens of celebrities – from Beyoncé to Obama, LeBron James to Robert de Niro – pledged their support to Hillary Clinton. The echo chamber of social media made it seem as though everyone was voting for Clinton. While she did win the popular vote, which reflected the online support, she lost the key event that many were betting on: becoming president.

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So, perhaps if betting on multiple events, using social media could be beneficial for swing states. Florida, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona for instance could provide more in-depth information on social media, but with populations the size of some countries, this may only tell half the story.  

The ‘Trump Train’ had its own echo chamber and a hugely vocal base on social media. Indeed, the network has a follow back guarantee to grow their supporters and interact, sharing pro-Trump content and deriding his opponents. For every person sharing videos of Trump’s gaffes, there were others sharing videos why Clinton’s actions posed a problem. For the MAGA group, they had their own echo chamber and would have expected Trump to win based on the feedback they received on social media. With two outcomes, statistically speaking, one echo chamber is likely to reflect the overall consensus.  

Mainstream media is more effective at gauging who might be likely to win the election and, therefore, who it might be best to bet on. However, this can also be skewed. Fox News, for example, was hugely supportive of Trump and showed him in a positive light. CNN, on the other hand, was backing Hillary and derided Trump. Watching one solely may make you feel as though everyone else is seeing what you’re seeing and must hold the same opinions. As much as the news reflects opinion, it also informs it.  

Trump does well with rural, older conservative voters, many of whom don’t have social media. Moreover, those who are slightly more private about voting for him and wish to do so again might not be vocal about it – the so-called silent majority. Looking at previous UK elections could also show how ineffectual social media is. Labour gained thousands of shares on well-designed social media content during the 2019 election, but that didn’t translate to seats in the House of Commons.

Social media can be a useful tool for political bettors to gauge some opinion, but ultimately polls and events which may impact polls are more beneficial. Given how the electoral college has such a say in who becomes president, social media could end up giving false hope by itself. The 2020 election will no doubt reward one echo chamber and stun another one – just like in 2016.   

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