Graph showing Trump had a much higher number of Facebook followers in 2020 than Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton.

Facebook was the election battleground that helped fuel Donald Trump’s journey to the White House in 2016, and the president continues to dominate on the social media platform in 2020.

My initial analysis of 4,450 Facebook posts from equal campaign periods before the 2016 and 2020 elections indicates that the current Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, is trailing the performance of Hillary Clinton in 2016. In contrast, Trump is exceeding his 2016 performance.

In my research of Facebook use by British political parties, I’ve seen Facebook fit ever more closely into the heart of modern political campaigning, with the rise of targeted advertising and novel types of organic (unpaid) posts and memes.

While much attention has been paid to the growth of paid-for targeted advertising on Facebook, research also points to the importance of organic campaigning – social media activity that occurs without paid promotion. It is this organic battle that Trump won so clearly in 2016, and the data I’ve been looking at shows a similar situation in 2020.

I’ve been using Facebook’s research tool, Crowdtangle, to compare the performance of posts made by the official Facebook pages of Clinton and Trump in 2016 with those by Trump and Biden in 2020. I focused on a 100-day period, ending 30 days before polling day in both years. Crowdtangle picks up all the posts sent by these two leaders’ Facebook pages during the 100 days; however, as social media posts can be deleted, it is possible that some data has been lost.

These pages only reflect a portion of party campaigns on Facebook because they don’t include the targeted advertising battle currently underway, nor the hundreds of other Facebook pages the parties use to campaign. But the Biden and Trump official Facebook pages – with a combined following of 32 million – are central to how the two campaigns spread their message organically on the platform. As such, they provide a clear insight into the overall health of the two parties’ campaigns, allowing for an appreciation of follower enthusiasm and the wider reach the candidates have achieved.

Trump soldiers on as Biden stumbles

Facebook users can follow someone or something by liking the overall page. According to data from the archive site Wayback, by early October, Trump had increased the number of people who like his Facebook page by 164% between 2016 and 2020, from 11 million to 29 million. He is far ahead of Biden on 3 million, who has half the 6 million people liking his page that Clinton had gathered in October 2016.