“Very Stable Genius” – Science Says Trump Tweets Were Systematic Plan of Attack in Presidential Campaign

President Trump

  • First detailed description of variation and change in style of 21,739 tweets posted between 2009 and 2018 on the Donald Trump Twitter account.
  • Four general patterns of linguistic variation identified in Trump’s tweets: conversational, campaigning, engaging and advisory styles.
  • Results are evidence that there was a clear and ultimately effective communication strategy employed by Trump and his team during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

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 estimate 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 the 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 online by PLOS ONE. 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 stand out 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 online presence on social media platforms 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.”

Reference: “Stylistic variation on the Donald Trump Twitter account: A linguistic analysis of tweets posted between 2009 and 2018” by Isobelle Clarke and Jack Grieve, 25 September 2019, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0222062

8 Comments on "“Very Stable Genius” – Science Says Trump Tweets Were Systematic Plan of Attack in Presidential Campaign"

  1. we are presuming “covfefe” was an outlier

  2. david wayne ferrin | October 5, 2019 at 6:46 am | Reply

    I think this is so much bull, not science, should not be posted as such…

  3. You’re only just figuring this out now? It took 21K+ tweets for some people to catch-on to recognize the brilliance of this? I’ve heard it said that Trump is “the most punk-rock President the US has ever had.” Anyone who sincerely thinks he’s a fool gets their news from the very worst source imaginable – mainstream media. Scott Adams and a few other highly intelligent commentators zeroed-in on what he was doing even before the 2016 election, not only predicting Trump’s win but explaining how he’d do it.

  4. This is all well and good, and, yes, if a person could have stomached paying attention to Trump’s rude twittering for so many years, a pattern would have emerged to anybody who was capable of holding a thought for more than a few minutes. But the thing that is most worrisome is that nowhere in all the various levels of his communications do we see Trump explaining an reasoned agenda, a purpose, a coherent policy to address the perceived ills of the country. In fact, the one main message that runs through all of it is that Trump wanted to win and would ally himself with whoever could help him achieve that and then rule on behalf of whatever group gave him money.
    As early as 2015 Trump could have run as an ‘Eisenhower Democrat’ (think about that for a moment: a man of little political conviction, a New Cincinnatus called this time from the fields of Capitalism to serve his desperate country.) And this, to me is the whole raucous debate since then, and since his election: Democrats do not oppose Trump just because he won and Hillary didn’t. They can’t abide his trampling of the presidency when, if he had simply meant to bring true, needed reform (the “Swamp,” the entanglement of influence peddling and government’s higher mission, etc.) we would have accepted him, welcomed him even, maybe come to love his rough exterior. It wasn’t “losing” the Democrats can’t get over, it was that Trump never intended to do anything but get elected, and was willing to do anything to accomplish it, and is now angling for a second term. So, please, those out there looking for a model to run a campaign, please do not run if you are just a spoiler–the presidency is a unique lever to bring change, positive change. Otherwise, it is a vipers’ nest.

    • O. Jeannene Shilinski | October 19, 2019 at 11:15 am | Reply

      This is one of the best explanations I’ve read. What really amazes me is that there are so many “intelligent” people who seem to adore this monster!

  5. All geniuses at Birmingham. Really sharp!

  6. Trump needs psychiatric help and the whole world knows it! His tweets, words and actions are a case study for a psychotic mentally deranged individual. The world and America lives in fear of his actions. Twitter has given Trump an outlet for his inner bitterness and false sense of reality. Trump’s childish behaviors stem from his spoiled upbringing and his immature way of dealing with life. Trump’s insecurity causes him to belittle anyone who opposes him. Trump lashes out at others with words that only reflect what is wrong with himself. That and more is what you Americans have for a president. Are you happy with having a nut job as your president?

  7. O. Jeannene Shilinski | October 19, 2019 at 11:45 am | Reply

    Donald Trump’s genius is obvious, however, his obsessive goal to “win” no matter who/what he destroys proves his lack of “stability” or care for his fellow-man — or even what it means to be an honorable POTUS.

    I don’t understand why people can’t acknowledge the insanity in his genius which is so obviously demonstrated by how he has rapidly and successfully surrounded himself with “bootlickers”.

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