Trump's Use of Twitter in the 2016 Campaign by Luke Perry and Paul Joyce
Donald Trump’s use of Twitter has been a dominant force in his political rise, though mocked and criticized by many. So much so, the president recently suggested that he would not have been elected without it. Trump’s Twitter use confirmed some aspects of conventional thinking by political communication scholars and short circuited others.
Trump exhibited how social media fuels a more personal politics and helps candidates connect with supporters independent of party. Candidates use Twitter as a vehicle of self-promotion and target particular audiences with certain forms of media. Trump heavily relied on one way communication while scholars have long called for greater two way communication to increase engagement and effectiveness.
We photographed and coded all of Donald Trump’s tweets (n=1,229) between informally securing the nomination (May 24) and inauguration day (January 20). Our focus was when, how, and what Trump tweeted, and which tweets received the best reception.
Trump tweeted most frequently in the morning, strategically enabling him to influence the day’s news cycle. His late night tweets were noteworthy during the campaign, but not indicative of when Trump normally tweeted. (See Table 1)
The majority of Trump’s tweets were exclamations. One in five used all caps, a virtual form of yelling. (See Table 2) Nearly half of Trump’s tweets were negative criticisms, twice as much as anything else, including more standard political uses, such as sharing information or giving thanks. (See Table 3)
Trump’s successful use of Twitter was predicated on his unprecedented willingness to “go negative” and be emphatic. Of Trump’s Tweets that received 30,000 or more likes, 51 percent went negative and 65 percent were an exclamation or in all caps. Similarly, of Trump’s tweets that were re-tweeted 9,000 or more times 54 percent went negative and 64 percent were an exclamation or in all caps.
One wonders the extent to which future presidential candidates can and would want to replicate Trump’s Twitter style. Ideally, candidates would replicate Trump’s passion, and the accompanying political benefits, while avoiding the abrasiveness that resulted in turning off a large segment of the population.
Like it or not, Twitter has solidified itself as an integral part of presidential elections and campaigns. 2016 should push future presidential candidates to seriously consider and develop a comprehensive Twitter style that furthers their message and helps to effectively manage media coverage.
Table 1 When Donald Trump Tweets
5:01am to 9:00am 26%
9:01am to 1:00pm 17%
1:01pm to 5:00pm 22%
5:01pm to 9:00pm 21%
9:01pm to 1:00am 3%
1:01am to 5:00am 10%
Table 2 How Trump Tweets
ALL CAPS 21%
Table 3 What Trump Tweets
Going Negative 49%
Info Sharing 24%
Giving Thanks 14%
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Associate Professor of Government at Utica College.
Paul Joyce is a graduating senior in government and politics at Utica College.