Trump Vs Hilary: What does Twitter show us?
Twenty first century electioneering does not work like it used to in the old days. Even those colorful, stadium-filling tickertape bonanzas that are such a staple of the process now look slightly old-hat. Hitting the campaign trail is not what it used to be.
Of course, those highly telegenic performances a still count for a lot – any candidate who didn’t put themselves through that exhausting process would be quickly written off as some sort of maverick. Or, as Hilary Clinton’s health scare showed, their physical fitness for office would be called into question.
But as Barack Obama’s first election proved back in 2012, the way to capture a nation’s heart now depends on accessing their online engagement as much as the old-fashioned formula of TV and radio ads, brave rhetoric and kissing the right babies. Obama committed some 10% of his budget to digital and this time around the candidates are expected to outspend him several times over, although Clinton is said to enjoy a significant spending advantage.
Social media matters
The election is now increasingly played out in the digital arena, with the result that what happens on social media is hugely important. Being able to register the big numbers and – perhaps even importantly – being able to determine the key vocabulary of the debate are now essential ingredients for success.
In that latter respect the Trump campaign has been notably successful. Irrespective of the candidate himself or a more limited budget, his team have clearly established a more forceful and resonant online campaign than the Democrats.
The Twitter impact
A look at the most commonly occurring terms associated with each candidate’s Twitter hashtag is telling. Whilst Clinton’s brand messages have clearly been taken up with alacrity, they have done little to in any way shape the contest. #imwithher and #strongertogether are recognisable but relatively bland messages.
In contrast #crookedhillary and #makeamericagreatagain have matched the Clinton campaign for noise, but they have also re-emphasised two powerful tropes that go beyond a simple celebration of ‘their man’.
The flat, static messages of unity in Clinton’s messages (‘together’/’with’) are simply no match for either her opponent’s brutal assertion of criminality or the more subtle aspect of the second message which presupposes that America has somehow lost its rightful ‘greatness’ (under a Democratic administration in which Clinton was involved). In both cases the message goes way beyond simple sloganeering.
The resonance of that latter message is underlined by the most repeated meme associated with either campaign: #maga. That abbreviation only works once the ‘Make America Great Again’ message has achieved currency. And the fact that #maga has been repeated over 8 and a half million times already points to the near magical success of the broader campaign.
For a candidate who has been accused at times of straying off message, Trump’s digital campaign has at times been impressively focussed.
Trump’s Twitter downside
Or at least it has been up until Trump started tweeting himself. Those – now infamous – late night Tweets have shown that there is a downside to Twitter as an election decider that goes beyond the quality of the candidate’s marketing teams.
It should be remembered that Twitter represents a restricted and self-selecting constituency. What happens on Twitter is not necessarily a reflection of what everyone, everywhere is thinking. The fact that Trump’s Twitter numbers have been higher than Hillary’s (he’s been almost three times as prominent) shouldn’t be taken s any sort of predictor of the result. In its way #MAGA has been a notable success but as both candidates would no doubt agree, it’s not just how much you trend on Twitter that matters – it’s the totality of what you say and do that counts.
Photo by gcasperson