Trump tweets were systematic plan of attack in Presidential campaign - study

Donald Trump used Twitter effectively to promote his campaign, communicate policy goals and attack opponents as part of a systematic campaign ahead of the 2016 US Presidential elections – a new study reveals.

Detailed analysis of the US President's tweets from 2009 to 2018 has also allowed researchers to estimated the point in time when the former Apprentice host actually decided to run for the Presidency.

University of Birmingham researchers have identified four general patterns of stylistic variation used in tweets posted on Trump’s Twitter account - conversational, campaigning, engaging and advisory – and tracked how use of these changed over time. The researchers provide evidence that the style of tweets shifts systematically depending on the communicative goals of Trump and his team.

Twitter was an integral part of Trump’s communication platform during his 2016 campaign and subsequent presidency. Free media coverage of his Twitter posts has been estimated as being worth $5 billion in advertising, yet – to date - relatively little has been known about the style of the language used on the account and how this style had changed over time.

The paper titled Stylistic variation on the Donald Trump Twitter account: A linguistic analysis of tweets posted between 2009 and 2018 has been published by PLOS ONE online. It is a detailed study by Professor Jack Grieve and Isobelle Clarke from the Centre for Corpus Research and the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham.

Based on a study of 21,739 tweets, the research proposes hypotheses about how the Trump campaign used social media during the 2016 elections, as well as how the style of language used shifted depending on their communication goals and external events.

In particular, four key themes have been uncovered about how Donald Trump and his team used Twitter successfully:

  • The style of Tweets was more formal when Trump was appealing to the general electorate, and more informal when he was appealing to the Republican base during the primaries of 2016.
  • Drawing on his experience using Twitter to promote himself and his brand as a celebrity, Donald Trump used Twitter to relentlessly promote his campaign which may have helped him standout as a non-traditional politician and as an outsider.
  • To counter critical coverage of his campaign from the press, Donald Trump had increasingly disengaged from other viewpoints over the course of the campaign, focusing on his own campaign and message, and on attacking his opponents, rather than directly addressing criticism about his personality and platform.
  • Donald Trump and his team had managed to strike a balance between attacking opponents and promoting himself.

All four dimensions showed clear temporal patterns, with most major shifts in style aligning to a small number of indisputably important points in the timeline, especially the 2011 Obama Birther controversy, the 2012 election, his 2015 declaration to run for President, the 2016 Republican nomination, the 2016 election, and the 2017 inauguration, as well as the seasons of his television series The Apprentice.

Professor Jack Grieve comments: "We found the style of tweets has varied systematically depending on the communicative goals of Trump and his team. Our results not only point to the value of running a balanced social media campaign, but also creating a confident and distinctive online persona.

“There has been a lot of interest in the language of Trump in the media, but analysis has generally been superficial from a linguistic standpoint and often clearly politically biased, selecting Tweets to illustrate certain talking points, rather than attempting to provide an overall picture of how Trump and his team use social media.

"This study shows how shows how online presence on social media platform is a crucial component of modern politics. Careful linguistic analysis can really help us better understand modern societal issues and help the public understand what is going on.”

Records show that Donald Trump declared his intention to run for the Presidency on 16 June 2015 and he had previously formed an exploratory committee in March 2015, but to-date nobody has known when exactly Trump decided that he would stand.

The research highlights a point around 3 February 2015, not long before Trump formed his exploratory committee. As the final season of The Apprentice was ending, Trump’s tweets became much more conversational and less engaged, with the TV star directly referencing running for President on this day.

“Remarkably, of the 161 tweets and 302 retweets sent from the account in February 2015, this is the only tweet sent from an iPhone,” commented Professor Grieve. “Given that Trump used an Android during this period, this tweet may have been sent on his behalf by someone on Trump’s soon-to-be campaign team.”

ENDS

For more information or interviews, please contact: Tony Moran, International Communications Manager on +44 (0) 121 414 8254 or contact the press office out of hours on +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

Note to Editors:

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Professor Jack Grieve is from Vancouver and studied at Simon Fraser University and Northern Arizona University. Before moving to the University of Birmingham in 2017, he held a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Leuven and a Lectureship in Forensic Linguistics at Aston University.