Bernie Sanders’ secret weapon

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With 172 million active monthly users and growing, politicians have taken notice of Reddit's influence

The themes of Sanders' campaign -- free college, jobs and getting big money out of politics -- speak to Reddit's demographic: Young people.

New York CNN  — 

How is Bernie Sanders amassing such large crowds? One of his tricks might be Reddit.

For those that don’t know, Reddit is a popular website community and social platform where registered users (which can really be anyone on the Internet) post and share links, comments and questions. Posts are then ranked up or down by the site’s users, which helps measure the popularity of particular post. There are also “subreddits” which are communities for more focused and targeted conversation. For example, in the “news” subreddit, users only discuss and share news.

The site, which is known for its sparse layout, relies on the conversation and sharing if its users. For a long time, outsiders thought the site was intended for more niche audiences within the Internet community.

But times have changed, and with 172 million active monthly users and growing, politicians have taken notice. In 2012, President Obama participated in his first Reddit AMA, short for “Ask Me Anything,” where users were allowed to ask the President anything. For example: “What’s the recipe for the White House’s beer?”

Other politicians followed suit, namely Sanders. Unlike his contenders in the 2016 race, Sanders holds a unique and grassroots following on the site, more than any one else in the 2016 race. According to Reddit spokeswoman Ashley Dawson, Sanders is among the most active on the site, conducting his own Reddit AMA to 8,593,027 subscribers shortly after announcing his run for the presidency, engaging directly with users about his candidacy.

There’s also a subreddit called “SandersForPresident” dedicated solely to conversation about Sanders, which has 69,150 readers. Posts include details for Sanders public campaign events, calls to action, volunteer opportunities, discussion threads about the campaign and Sanders. For context, the main subreddit for Hillary Clinton’s campaign has 407 readers.

Kenneth Pennington, the digital director for Sanders’ 2016 campaign, recognizes the value of this community and its organic growth. He said Sanders has been active on Reddit for the past three years, first while in the Senate and now as a presidential candidate.

“Bernie is willing to answer to any question you throw at him,” Pennington said. As for theories why he is so popular in a subreddit, Pennington believes the themes of his campaign – free college, jobs and getting big money out of politics – speak to Reddit’s demographic: Young people.

While Sanders is succeeding against his opponents on Reddit, he still has a way to go on Twitter with 194,000 followers (Clinton has 3.94 million followers). As for Facebook, Sanders isn’t that far behind Clinton’s 1.1M followers, as he’s currently settled at 903,000 “likes.”

In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and see if other candidates are moved to engage the Reddit community as part of their digital strategy.