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What we can learn about the presidential contenders from emoji

Oh look, it's an emoji that looks like Ben Carson.


Aaron Sankin


Posted on Mar 3, 2016   Updated on May 27, 2021, 3:27 am CDT

If a picture is worth a thousand words, every text message conversation between millennials is three-volume novel.

Oceans of ink, both digital and physical, have been spilled opining about the 2016 presidential candidates’ efforts to chase young voters. Sure, ingesting all of that commentary could give you pretty decent idea of what millennials think about the slate of current and former presidential candidates. However, as a counterpoint, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Blend, a group chat app targeted at millennials, conducted an analysis of how a quarter-million of its users, whose average age ranges from 18 to 24, talked about presidential candidates over the lat six months. Specifically, the company pulled out the most commonly used emoji associated with each candidate. The results are surprisingly revealing.

Donald Trump has wrapped himself in the flag and the one thing he wants everyone to know about him is how his “success” in business has led to enormous personal wealth. Yet, the girl crossing her arms indicates his proclivity toward misogyny may hurt him with female voters and the poop emoji is indicative of how far more voters have a negative impression of the real estate heir turned reality TV star than have a positive one.

Hillary Clinton has raised a considerable amount of money, hence the money bag emoji; however, so has Sanders, her rival for the Democratic nomination, for whom this particular picture was less frequently attached. The difference is a significantly larger amount of Clinton’s fundraising has come in the form of large donations from corporations and the very wealthy, whereas Sanders likes to trumpet that his average donation is $27. In all other cases where money emoji were attached to a candidate, that money represented personal wealth belonging the candidate. For Hillary, it’s someone else’s money.

To a greater degree than when she lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, Clinton has leaned on the narrative of becoming the first female president in American history, hence the implied reference to her gender in the red shoe emoji. The other narrative, which has been both a blessing and a curse, is that of inevitability, hence the emoji of the woman wearing a crown.

Like Trump, although not to the same degree, more people hold an unfavorable opinion of Clinton than do a favorable one—as evidenced by the final two emoji on her list.

The visual pun in the shrub emoji is obvious, but there’s something instructive to how these two emoji tell the story of why Jeb Bush‘s campaign for the Oval Office failed. The only real information expressed by these emoji are Bush’s name and the country where his father and older brother both served as president. Jeb never broke out of that box and defined his candidacy apart from the Bush family legacy and all of its requisite baggage. Bush lost because he could never convince the American people he deserved a third emoji.

In retrospect, it’s weird that Bernie Sanders, a 74-year old socialist from Vermont, would be candidate who inspired America’s young voters with the intense passion of a fire emoji, but here we are. Maybe it had to do with the purity of both his message and persona, as evidenced by the halo emoji. Nevertheless, that passion has translated into a “Bernie bro” phenomenon that’s one of the two likely motivators behind the angry emoji and the thumbs down emoji. The other being, you know, “socialism.”

Marco Rubio is bae. You would totally put a ring emoji on that and then take him to Red Lobster afterward. For America emoji.

Michael Bloomberg has so much money it’s figuratively falling out of every orifice. Outside of a small bubble of Silicon Valley technocrats, who are apparently clamoring for Bloomberg to mount a third-party run, it doesn’t seem like the billionaire former New York City mayor’s rumored presidential ambitions are being taken particularly seriously by Blend users.

Is Ted Cruz an American or is he a Canadian? It seems like there are still some questions there.

Oh look, it’s an emoji that looks like Ben Carson and it looks so happy. Hi, Ben! Best of luck on your next venture!

John Kasich‘s plan to lull America to sleep with generally reasonable conservative policy proposals combined with a disinclination to turn his campaign into the type of flaming clown show apparently required to win GOP votes in 2016 has clearly been communicated to the voting public loud and clear.

Photo via Duncan Hull/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

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*First Published: Mar 3, 2016, 10:56 pm CST