So what did Trump really tweet about?
One of the original purposes of this blog series was to shine a light on the research behind my forthcoming thesis on Donald Trump’s use of Twitter in the context of the presidential election. I’m now finally in a position to do some hard data crunching of Trump’s tweets, which I’ll use as evidence for my arguments.
The first thing I’m investigating is to what extent Trump’s tweets evince what I’m calling “paranoid populism” – a uniquely American strain of conspiracy-laden, nationalistic, often religiously inspired ideology which can be traced back over a century. Trump’s unusually impulsive use of the medium, as well as the short, hashtag-heavy nature of tweets, make it a useful source of data for this line of inquiry.
My process was fairly simple: I downloaded an archive of Trump’s tweets (helpfully compiled here) and isolated tweets sent between the day he announced his candidacy, June 16th, 2015, and Election Day. I omitted what I call “hard retweets” — when Trump or his staff simply pressed the retweet button — but left quoted tweets in place. I then ploughed the raw text of the remaining tweets into text analysis software.
The software performs collocation analysis — searching through the text and finding the most common sequences of words, from a sequence of eight words down to just one, i.e. the most frequent words used overall. The patterns which emerge from this analysis are pretty interesting. The most common nine-word phrase, for example, is “I will work hard and never let you down”, which appeared in 16 of the total 5361 tweets sent. The most common four-word phrase is — you guessed it — “make America great again” (the calculations are case-insensitive) with 203 instances. The second most common four-word phrase, however, is “I will be interviewed”, which came up one third as often as “Make America great again — showing the extent to which Trump used Twitter as a way to promote his mainstream media appearances (back when he actually talked to the FAKE NEWS media.)
A very popular three-word phrase, second only to “thank you for” once we strip out segments of the phrases mentioned above (e.g. “Make America Great”) is, of course, “Crooked Hillary Clinton”, which came up 75 times. I’m not a linguistics expert, but the fact that Trump’s catchphrases and slogans are so well-represented (i.e., oft-repeated) in his tweets is pretty impressive. Consider that Trump typed “Crooked Hillary Clinton” more than common election-time phrases like “join me in”, “will be in”, and “the people of”, and you begin to see the brutal consistency with which he hammered his message home. (My later research will focus on how these messages were amplified beyond Trump’s own Twitter followers.)
Finally, we can look at Trump’s most commonly used words overall. It is harder to divine patterns here — you can’t tell much from his frequent use of “in”, “and”, “to” and “a”, for example — but the beauty of hashtags is that they are counted as just one word, even if they contain several. So I made a list of Trump’s favourite hashtags, and turned them into the circle diagram below, where size equals frequency:
Surprise surprise, #makeamericagreatagain and the abbreviation #maga were used more than any other hashtag, even more than the general purpose #trump2016. But looking further down the list, it’s also striking to see even more explicitly nationalist phrases like #AmericaFirst — which has disturbing connotations in American history — and the anti-media slogan #draintheswamp. (And remember that this analysis is just of Trump’s tweets before he won the election.)
This is preliminary, and in many ways surface-level, analysis. The data is richer than what appears here — I plan to use quantitative metrics like the retweets and favorites each tweet received, and run some network analysis to see the people and organizations Trump mentioned the most. But the evidence here alone already paints a compelling picture of Trump’s unprecedented, strikingly unpresidential, and yet seemingly effective use of the medium as a candidate.