The 2016 US presidential campaign has been called one of the most divisive in recent history. We were curious about how people used emojis to express their emotions on Election Day. So we used Twitter’s Streaming API to collect over 1.8 million election-related tweets throughout the day. (Our data likely represents a decent portion of the 75 million election-related tweets reported by Twitter on Election Day.) So what did we find?

1. Reaction to Hillary’s loss consists of love and grief while Trump’s victory elicits both celebration and anger.

 We plot the most commonly used emojis in tweets mentioning either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, looking specifically at tweets from after midnight Eastern Time on November 9, 2016. By this time, early results were indicating a Trump victory. (The networks finally called the election just before 3am, which is when Trump made his victory speech.)

The more to the right an emoji appears, the more likely it is to be used in a tweet mentioning Trump (compared to Clinton).

  • Hillary’s top emojis — ❤️, 😭 , & 🙏 — represent an outpouring of love and support.
  • Trump’s top emojis — 🤔, 👍, 👏, & 🖕 — represent both celebration as well as anger.
  • In the above plot, we’ve removed 😂 as well as 🇺🇸 since they both occur with such high frequency that they make it hard to visualize the other emojis. 😂 has an overall frequency of 146 per 1,000 and leans slightly Clinton (valence = -0.3), while 🇺🇸 appears in 180 of 1,000 tweets and leans strongly Trump (valence = +0.7).

(I’m indebted to David Robinson’s brilliant analysis of Donald Trump’s tweets for the idea of using log odds ratio here.)

2. Emojis reveal the before and after journey for both Hillary and Trump supporters.

We can also compare emojis from earlier in the day to those used in the evening to understand the before and after journey for supporters of both candidates. Here, we plot these comparisons, for Hillary (left) and Trump (right), where in each plot, emojis closer to the right are more common after midnight. Thus, for Hillary, we see her supporters’ emotional journey from hope and conviction throughout the day to heartbreak and lament in the evening. The journey for Trump’s emojis seems less informative, although we do note how this particular contrast again elicits a mix of negative and positive emojis on the right.

3. Emojis reveal the divided emoji states of America.

Americans are deeply divided politically and the emojis we used to respond to the election results reflect that. Here, we look at word clouds for three selected emojis — the 👍, the 🖕, and the 🤔 — in tweets after midnight.

  • 👍, the thumbs up, unsurprisingly, is mostly used to express sincere congratulations to Donald Trump.
  • 🖕, the middle finger makes a surprising appearance here — ranking 26th in overall frequency in our dataset and 19th in tweets mentioning Donald Trump — and is mostly used to express some variation of “fuck you,” usually to Trump or his supporters.
  • 🤔, the thinking face is an interesting, slightly negative emoji here, expressing mostly befuddlement at the results.

4. Trump mentions exceed Clinton mentions and spike as election results become apparent

Here, we see that throughout Election Day, the volume of Donald Trump mentions on Twitter exceeds that for Hillary Clinton. Trump mentions spike sharply between 2 and 3am and then fall off after his victory speech.

By plotting time series of the frequency of tweets with specific emojis — separately for Trump and Clinton — we can also isolate more granular reactions as news of the results came in.

  • We see that 🇺🇸, the US flag emoji, used similarly frequently in mentions of Trump and Clinton throughout the day, becomes much more strongly associated with Trump starting at 2am.
  • 🖕, the middle finger emoji, is much more common with Trump compared to Clinton throughout the day, and the discrepancy becomes especially sharper starting at around 10pm.
  • 😭, the loudly crying emoji, is sparsely used throughout the day but spikes in Hillary mentions around 9pm and remains elevated throughout the rest of the evening.
  • 🙏, the folded hands emoji, spikes for Hillary Clinton between 8–11pm, perhaps when her supporters were hoping the early results were anomalous and she would eke out a close victory in the swing states, and then plummets at midnight when they lose all hope.

5. Election Day Emoji Dictionary

Inspired by Urban Dictionary, we conclude with a closer look at the top emojis in our dataset, specifically at the ones that most strongly lean towards Trump or Clinton. Below, we provide interpretations of what they mean, drawing on word clouds and also also representative tweets. Emoji valence refers to the log odds ratio for Trump vs. Clinton (positive numbers indicate these emojis are more Trump leaning).

Trump leaning emojis

Clinton leaning emojis


By Hamdan Azhar

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Prismoji data science intern Fernando Hidalgo assisted with data collection and analysis and research assistant Aysha Choudhary provided invaluable feedback and assisted with emoji to English translation. The analysis here follows earlier work looking at emojis associated with Brexit and emoji associated with the Taylor Swift — Kanye West controversy. If you’re interested in learning more about emoji data science, check out Hamdan Azhar’s presentation at Emojicon from earlier this month.

3 thoughts on “The top emojis of Election Day 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s