Quoting How did Trump win? Here are 24 theories

  1. He won because of Facebook and its inability or unwillingness to crack down on fake news Via New York Magazine: The social network and others like it became a clearinghouse for fake news. Not simple partisan spin, but outright lies peddled as objective truth by shady actors both inside the US and abroad.
  2. Because of social media, generally Via right-wing commentator Stefan Molyneux: The medium made the man -- much as radio won the presidency for Franklin Roosevelt and television boosted John Kennedy, social media allowed Trump and his allies to drive the narrative.

I had heard many people who supported trump weren't particularly tech savvy (e.g. working class) and I personally only saw negative publicity for Trump on social media.

Is it true that Facebook and other social media sites helped Trump gain votes? I guess it's a separate question whether this was actively done by Trump or if it sort of naturally happened that people posted positive things about him on social media.

EDIT: the comment here said "All those models failed to replicate the actual voters, they downplayed the importance of tech unsavvy"

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    I would suggest taking this question to Skeptics, since you have a very specific claim you want fact-checked.
    – Batman
    Nov 14, 2016 at 22:52
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    It would certainly seem so, but I don't know if there's any definitive way to say one way or the other. It's all speculation, is it not?
    – user1530
    Nov 14, 2016 at 23:53
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    @blip it is no more speculative than "Why were pre-election polls and forecast models so wrong about Donald Trump?" which is extremely well received
    – Celeritas
    Nov 15, 2016 at 6:06
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    You might be able to see some correlation, but you won't outside of direct polling, get to a definitive answer. Trump used social media is true, and Trump won votes is true, but there were a tremendous amount of other factors that decide votes. In any event, his twitter account seemed to be the most used and abused of his preferred media.
    – user9790
    Nov 15, 2016 at 16:34
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    @Celeritas the polls weren't a reflection of reality -- they were an attempt to project reality. HuffingtonPost 98% for clinton victory, bigggest joke I know. Nov 15, 2016 at 17:23

4 Answers 4


It's difficult to pull out particular factors from the election, and I doubt that we'll ever have a truly objective yes or no to this question. Donald Trump won. He used social media in innovative ways. Does the latter explain the former? Who knows? It's not like votes come with an explanation.


Facebook is an interesting example. The quote mentions "...outright lies peddled as objective truth by shady actors both inside the US and abroad." But the interesting part is that the people outside the US were apparently doing it purely for profit. Apparently the ad revenue from fake news articles posted on Facebook was enough to make a decent income in Macedonia.

It's a fascinating intersection of Trump's celebrity, Clinton's unpopularity, and right wing hunger for news. And it doesn't even require actual malfeasance. It's possible that it arose on its own, although it is also possible that someone like Roger Stone (Trump's version of Bob Creamer) started it. Regardless, it seems to have spread into a cottage industry.


Twitter creates soundbite length posts. As a result, when the media would cover something that he posted, they tended to either quote exactly or show the actual tweet. The point being that his tweets were reaching even people who weren't "tech savvy".

The fundamental problem with both Twitter and Facebook is that they tend to be read and followed by supporters. But campaigns only need to reach supporters to encourage them to vote. The harder task is reaching potential supporters. Social media doesn't help as much with that, although retweets and likes can help somewhat.

Traditional media still reaches a number of potential Trump voters. The restricted nature of Twitter allowed Trump to talk through traditional news. Of course, his rally speeches also generated free media mentions, but Twitter has the advantage of more control. They can pick any section of an hour long rally to quote, but it's hard to excerpt Twitter.

Other media

Trump also received support from other media. For example, radio stars like Rush Limbaugh and local versions endorsed him. Fox News may not have endorsed him, but their editorial comments were mostly in favor. There has been some speculation that conservatives in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been encouraged to vote by negative news about Clinton and positive coverage of Trump. It doesn't take much tech savvy to listen to the radio while in the car.

Comparing this year to 2012

Trump got around the same number of votes as Mitt Romney. The real difference in this election was that Hillary Clinton received about five million fewer votes than Barack Obama. As such, it's not established that anything Trump did improved over Romney, except picking an easier opponent. Since there were two million or so more votes in this election than 2012, the normal expectation would have been that he should have beat Romney by a million votes or so. Whatever he did had the net effect of losing him a million votes rather than gaining.

Now, it could be that Trump lost millions of votes by being, well, Trump. And then gained back one fewer millions through social media. He did much worse among more educated whites and better among working class people of all races but especially whites. That's a reasonable hypothesis but ultimately uncheckable.

People asserted that Obama's success was caused by his data driven campaigns. He transferred that apparatus to Clinton, but it didn't work the same way for her. Is the theory disproven? Obama was also known for the high quality of his social media. But Clinton wasn't able to copy his success, even though she had many of the same staff.

It's possible that the better (or less worse) candidate won. Would Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich have beaten Clinton? Would Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, or Jim Webb have beaten Trump? We'll never know.

Note: by better/worse candidate, I'm referring purely to electability rather than ability to be president. We'll never know objectively who would have made a better president (although many have their suspicions). And we won't know how Trump will do until he actually has a chance to do something.


Yeah, the idea that Trump supporters aren't Tech-savvy is very far from true, especially on Reddit. The subreddit r/The_Donald was and still is a massive congregation of trump supporters online, and throughout the process of Wikileaks, this community along with /pol on 4chan actually led the entire investigation, which prompted Wikileaks to tweet a link to a Reddit discussion. Donald Trump even did an interview on Reddit!

However, this is more true of the younger group. The more rural supporters or older conservatives probably aren't as tech savvy, but there are definitely many very intelligent Trump supporters.

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    Reddit and 4chan aren't exactly "tech savvy" endeavors.
    – Batman
    Nov 14, 2016 at 22:55
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    They're social media sites, that's what he was asking
    – user24527
    Nov 14, 2016 at 23:30
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    4chan is pretty much the opposite of "social" media. But besides that, you answer is not really representative. Just proving that there are two communities on the whole internet with a bunch of Trump supporters doesn't mean they are a considerable fraction of the whole Trump voting base.
    – Philipp
    Nov 15, 2016 at 0:30
  • @Philipp "Antisocial media", then?
    – Eikre
    Nov 15, 2016 at 16:39
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    @Philipp there are exactly zero (non-payed) communities that supported hillary clinton in a similar fashion. On the contrary, these two trump communities were the de-facto campaign propaganda wing since the primaries until election day. Nov 15, 2016 at 17:19

If anything it would be the other way around. Quite commonly on social media we seen that Trump would have fake videos and rumours spread about his policies and ideas. Social media is a huge platform upon which a lot of people (especially the younger generation) will attack Trump and follow popular belief and opinion.

Meanwhile, Hillary has controlled most of the mainstream media into focusing so much on Trump and why he's doing a bad job. I'd be surprised if you could find a mainstream media outlet that weren't in support of Hillary.


Yes. Social media platforms did indeed help Trump gain votes, but not through the methods you mentioned (fake news, vocal right-wing individuals, etc).

Facebook did play a role in this election, the degree of Facebook's influence is up to debate. But the Trump campaign used the Facebook platform to raise funds as well as broadcast targeted ads (In a speech, one of the Trump campaign managers specifically thanked a client solution manager at Facebook after Trump's victory). With Facebook's ad platform, you can target gender, age, location, and (until recently) race. With this level of granularity, you can image how Trump's campaign used it for their advantage.

The thing with social media is that it can be deceiving in a way. For example (and this is a strictly imaginary scenario), if Clinton's campaign did an aggregated count of mentions throughout the country, they see many mentions was of positive sentiment, and there were be many more mentions of Clinton than Trump. On the other hand, Trump's social media mention may mostly be negative. With this, Clinton's campaign may think - "we have this in the bag!". The thing to note here is that, the population that frequently uses social media is heavily skewed towards younger, more liberal generation. Of course the aggregation would show that Clinton is more favored. The Trump campaign used this to their advantage, they kept up the ad targeting even though it seemed like a lost cause to them based on simple aggregations. I think the Clinton campaign could have benefitted from better segmentations based on voting districts, they may be able to discover some alarming trends for them. (But who knows what actually happened during the campaign - I'm just spit-balling here.)

  • Do you have any sources for the claim that the Trump campaign used extensive Facebook advertising? Maybe with some numbers how much more they used it than the Clinton campaign?
    – Philipp
    Nov 15, 2016 at 11:12

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