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What’s Trending? Virginia and New Jersey

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This piece was originally published in the November 5, 2021 edition of CAP Action’s weekly newsletter, What’s Trending? Subscribe to What’s Trending? here.

A graphic design of the words What’s Trending? with megaphones and smartphones and a line chart in the background

Hey, y’all.

There’s no avoiding it: Tuesday was a tough night for those of us pushing for progressive policies. As someone who worked on the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial race, I know firsthand the national spotlight we shine on these off-year races can be both illuminating and unforgiving.

Many people have shared their thoughts on what happened. There is both wisdom and over-ascription in these analyses. But What’s Trending? readers will know that one of the most politicized topics in the Virginia race, critical race theory, surfaced on Facebook much earlier than it surfaced in campaign ads or on the debate stage.

Social listening can provide helpful, real-time insight into the narratives people are ingesting and responding to and may even serve as a proving ground for potential messaging strategy.

Read on to learn more about how topics like critical race theory and inflation are performing on political social media. And in case you missed it, check out our latest edition of What’s Trending? here.

WHAT WE’RE HEARING ON SOCIAL

It was a tough week for progressives on Facebook. Only one post — a photo of President Biden the First Lady departing the White House for Rome — made it into the top 10 political posts.

Several top posts from conservatives celebrated the conservative “Let’s Go, Brandon” chant. Others touched on the supply chain and gas prices.

This image features a bar chart comprised of the top political Facebook posts from October 28th to November 3rd. It is organized by interactions by the hundred thousand. There is a color distinction between conservative and progressive posts. In order of the most interactions to the least, it goes, Dan Bongino, Candace Owens, Bongino, Breitbart, President Biden, Owens, Bongino, Owens, Breitbart, Ryan Fournier, Bongino, Michelle Obama, the Other 98%, Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren
Top 20 best-performing political Facebook posts by interactions, according to data from NewsWhip
This image features a T-Chart of top political Facebook posts by interaction, comparing the week of October 21st and October 28th. 9/10 of the top posts on Facebook, for both weeks, were held by conservatives.
Top 10 best-performing political Facebook posts on the left and right for the weeks of October 21 and 28 by interactions, according to data from NewsWhip.
This image describes the top ten Facebook posts by progressives between October 28th and November 3rd. In order of most interactions to least, it goes Pres. Biden, Michelle Obama, The Other 98%, Michelle Obama, Pres Biden, The Other 98%, The Other 98%, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren
Top ten Facebook posts from progressive pages over the last week, according to data from NewsWhip
The image below describes the top ten Facebook posts by conservatives between October 28th and November 3rd. In the order of most engagements to least, it goes, Dan Bongino, Candace Owens, Dan Bongino, Breitbart, Candace Owens, Dan Bongino, Candace Owens, Breitbart, Ryan Fornier, Dan Bongino
Top ten Facebook posts from conservative pages over the last week, according to data from NewsWhip

DEEP DIVE

Following this week’s gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, conservative messaging has been much discussed. In particular, conservatives appear to have found a pair of powerful attack messages: a culture-war argument that uses “critical race theory” as a vehicle to stoke parental concerns about race and education and an economic argument that focuses on inflation and the rising cost of goods.

In the chart below, we can see that neither message appeared overnight. Both saw significant spikes in engagement more than six months ago and have had a steady drumbeat driven by conservative pages ever since. This extended, consistent messaging on Facebook, doubtless echoed on other media, helps increase the salience of these issues for voters over time. It also raises an important question: When does a message become loud enough to counter?

This image features a line chart measuring weekly Facebook interactions by topic. It measures Critical Race Theory, Inflation, Let’s Go Brandon and Build back Better. The Y axis is the total weekly interactions by the million, and the X axis is the week reported on, dating back from December 28, 2020. While Build Back Better led originally but Critical Race Theory dominated discussion from May 2021 to August 2021, since its been beaten out by another Conservative topic “Let’s Go Brandon.”
Total Facebook interactions for posts posts referencing topic keywords, according to data from NewsWhip (U.S. pages only)

We also, of course, need to continue being proactive as well as reactive.

The Build Back Better Act, signature legislation chock-full of wildly popular policies, only briefly out-performed CRT and inflation in terms of Facebook engagements toward the end of September. When the BBB Act passes Congress, progressives will need all hands on deck to amplify a unified message about how it will help Americans.

A final note: The conservative rallying cry “Let’s Go, Brandon” has reached massive engagement levels in recent weeks. While it’s a meme, not a potential wedge policy issue like CRT or inflation, memes are a powerful tool to advance a message. Progressives, take note!

Thanks for reading,

 Alex

P.S. Please do forward along to your friends who are interested or encourage them to sign up here.

This newsletter is written by me, Alex Witt (@alexandriajwitt), a progressive political staffer and Dolly Parton enthusiast (she/her), and CAP Action’s fantastic team of designers, data analysts, and email strategists.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Authors

Alex Witt

Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships

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Welcome to “What's Trending?”, a weekly newsletter to help progressives answer the age-old questions: What works, and what doesn't? “What's Trending?” cuts through the noise to bring you the best (and worst) of what's happening on social media in the policy space, and explains why it's important.

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