We all know that Bernie Sanders was popular with the hippest pockets of the internet before he went mainstream.
In May, Vox’s Matt Yglesias anointed him the president of Reddit for being wildly popular with a small slice of Americans who can’t get enough of a grumpy old man with a Brooklyn accent shouting at George Stephanopoulos about the Nordic social model.
Of course, since then, Sanders has migrated from Reddit into real presidential contender territory, giving Hillary Clinton a scare with his 22-point win over her in New Hampshire.
But before all that, the Pew Research Center decided to peer into the depths of Reddit to get a better sense of how, exactly, presidential chatter was going down.
For the uninitiated, Reddit is an online community where users can post links and start conversation threads. It parcels up conversations into thousands of topic pages, called subreddits. Overall, 7 percent of American adults use Reddit, and nearly eight in 10 use the site as a news source.
To get a better sense of chatter about the presidential campaign happening on Reddit, Pew coded every comment made in the months of May, June, and September that contained the names of any of the 21 then-declared presidential candidates.
There were 350,000 such comments in total, over the three months studied, and about 165,000 of them mentioned Bernie Sanders. By way of comparison, that number is roughly equal to the number of mentions that Hillary Clinton (85,000) and Donald Trump (73,000) earned combined.
That’s not exactly shocking – Reddit’s user base is younger, more male, and more liberal than the American population overall. In other words, it tracks the types of voters, pejoratively referred to as Bernie Bros, who are the senator’s most enthusiastic backers.
But the disparity gets worse. The Bernie Sanders subreddit garnered 59,000 comments mentioning a candidate over the three months studied. In contrast, a subreddit dedicated to Trump garnered 212 such comments, while a Clinton forum only had 61.
This analysis might seem silly. Certainly its findings are outdated, since Pew’s report draws on data during the beginning of the presidential campaign, months before any of the presidential nominating contests.
But Sanders’s Reddit supporters have been a potent organizing force in his favor, a little like the throngs of young people who gathered for Howard Dean in 2004 on Meetup.com.
So far, Sanders’s Reddit supporters have raised $1 million toward his campaign, sent volunteers to canvass for him on the ground, and challenged his narrow Iowa loss.
These internet-savvy supporters are likely not the strongest factor that’s keeping Sanders competitive. But they certainly play a part, and this Pew report helps underscore the fact that to forget them is to overlook a sizable and growing force in presidential politics.