NEW YORK, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, locked in a tight race in Iowa with front-runner Hillary Clinton, won big on Facebook in the day leading up to the state's pivotal presidential caucuses.
By Anjali Athavaley and Amy Tennery
Sanders amassed the largest number of new Facebook followers of any candidate in the race, the social network said on Monday, topping Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump by 15,695 to 10,704. Clinton had the third most new followers, with 6,210 liking her page in the past day.
Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, also dominated the conversation surrounding the caucus on Facebook through Monday morning.
From midnight to noon CST (0600-1800 GMT), 42.2 percent of conversations about the caucuses were about Sanders, compared with 21.7 percent for Trump and 13.1 percent forClinton, according to Facebook.
While social media buzz does not necessarily translate into votes, it is a good indication of the interest level surrounding a candidate.
Iowans began choosing candidates at 7 p.m. CST (0100 GMT on Tuesday), with results expected within a few hours. The contest is the first of the state-by-state battles to pick nominees for the Nov. 8 election to succeed President Barack Obama.
Google trends data also showed strong interest in Sanders.
In Iowa, Sanders was the top-searched-for Democratic candidate on the search engine, with 52 percent of queries relating to the Democratic candidates. Clinton commanded 42 percent of queries. Even so, Trump was the top most-searched for presidential candidate overall, according to the most recent Google search data available.
The hashtag #IowaTODAY was the top trending U.S. topic on Twitter on Monday night. As the clock ticked down to the start of the caucuses, candidates made last-minute appeals on social media.
“Only a few hours left before the Caucus! Can I count on 40 more people to donate from Twitter before it starts?” tweeted Paul (@RandPaul) on Monday evening.
“We can and we will get back to the founding principles that made America great,” Cruz (@tedcruz) tweeted on Monday, with the hashtag #CaucusForCruz.
Clinton’s Twitter account (@HillaryClinton) tweeted a code where cellphone users could enroll in text message alerts from her campaign.
Some candidates were already looking ahead to New Hampshire, which holds its presidential primary on Feb. 9.
“Join us tonight in Manchester for the first of our New Hampshire swing,” Republican Jeb Bush (@JebBush) tweeted, with a link to claim tickets to a town hall event scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EST on Monday. (Reporting by Anjali Athavaley; Additional reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Peter Cooney)
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