The message of Trump is Trump. And Hillary Clinton’s, too!

Donald Trump has an obsession: Donald Trump. But so does Hillary Clinton. This might give the Donald an extra umpf in the final presidential race. This is one of the conclusions of my analysis of the 2176 tweets put out by the two campaigns in the last few months.  The word clouds below center and size the terms by frequency. As it can be seen, both are dominated by the same word: “trump” (intentionally used here in lowercase, to distinguish it as a rhetorical artifact).

Donald Trump's Twitter Campaign Word Cloud Nov 2015 - June 2016
Donald Trump’s Twitter Campaign Word Cloud Nov 2015 – June 2016
Hillary Clinton's Twitter Campaign Word Cloud November 2015 - June 2016
Hillary Clinton’s Twitter Campaign Word Cloud November 2015 – June 2016

The thing that strikes the most is that Trump’s word cloud includes in a very visible position some campaign messages, including the key phrase “make America great again”. “Will” is also prominent, indicating a future oriented message. Mrs. Clinton has a harder time articulating a strong, pointed counter-attack strategy that associates her name with an equally strong message. “Women,” “america” and “together” are present in the cloud in relative prominent positions, but not as obvious as they should or could be. They also beg the questions: what about America, women, or our togetherness does the candidate propose?

While the presence and importance of the key terms is interesting, another question is even more intriguing. What terms are most closely associated with the core ones? In other words, what else can be found with some degree of constancy in the tweets that mention mr. Trump’s or Hillary Clinton’s name?

The top three associated terms with Hillary Clinton’s name are in Trump’s campaign pugnacious and combative, while in Hillary’s media centric. Hillary Clinton associated her own name with media coverage, such as Good Morning America and Saturday Night Live, while Trump stuck to Hillary’s name the qualifier “crooked” like a stamp on a letter. The correlation coefficient for the association between “hillary” and “crooked” is the highest of all correlations, of any kind, and three times greater than the evaluative correlations used by Hillary in table 2 to qualify Trump (“judge” and “thinks”). Also, note that while Hillary merely alludes to Trumps problems with the law (“judge”) and his propensity to offer the public personal opinions (“thinks”), Trumps made it stick plain and simple using an old and tested technique of tarring the opponent with the stickiest goo (“crooked”).

Trump is equally effective at associating his own name with his main campaign slogan, “make America great again,” a thing that Hillary Clinton is not very good at. In fact, what is Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan? Does she know, herself, what it is? If, yes, she should use it in every tweet starting tomorrow.

Table 1. Terms the closest associated with “hillary”
In the Clinton Feed In the Trump Feed
Associated Terms Correlation Coefficient (1 is max) Associated Terms Correlation Coefficient (1 is max)
clinton 0.26 crooked 0.69
gma 0.23 clinton 0.55
nbcsnl 0.21 bernie 0.28
reacts 0.21 beat 0.24
Table 2. Terms the closest associated with “trump”
In the Clinton Feed In the Trump Feed
Associated Terms Correlation Coefficient (1 is max) Associated Terms Correlation Coefficient (1 is max)
donald 0.47 makeamericagreatagain 0.24
judge 0.21 thank 0.2
thinks 0.2 donald 0.19

These findings suggest that the claims made by various observers that the celebrity obsession of mainstream media made Trump the GOP nominee needs to be carefully qualified. His speaking style, controversial statements, and provocative policy propositions have attracted constant attention because they were, to a certain extent, unavoidable. Outrageous claims, dramatic pronouncements, and the genuine popular support some of his positions attracted could not be simply avoided, even if to counter them. Hillary Clinton’s position, at least as reflected in her Twitter feed, suggests that it was not only media that was compelled to answer, but all the major actors, including herself. This came at a cost to her and to all other positions, as all attention and rhetorical energy has been spent on explaining or countering Mr. Trump. As attention is the capital on which political success is built, the more attention Mr. Trump got, the more critical and “discussable” his claims became. The net effect was that he became the piper who plays the tune.

Note: The analysis was prepared using the TwitteR and Semnet Libraries in R and will be incorporated in the future syllabus for the Social Media Analytics Graduate Course at Purdue University, to be offered in Spring 2017. The scripts will be made available on this site.



Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei's teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

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