Pre-Debate, Trump Dominates Social Media…But Does It Matter?

Peoria Project - GWU

Donald Trump has blown all expectations this summer…including perhaps his own. Cable news can talk about little else in politics, we now have confirmation of his dominance of social media via GW’s Peoria Project. We covered the Project’s earlier report on the opening days of the presidential campaign back in May, and they’re now out with an update covering the Trump Era.

In the distant days BT (Before Trump), Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders stood out on Facebook and Twitter, with others seeing far less attention and amplification. But we’re now in the Trump’s World, and he’s sucked most of the oxygen out of the online room, according to numbers from social media analytics firm Zignal Labs. That’s particularly true for his Republican friends:

“The talk about Trump peaked or spiked seven times in the last half of our study period. All seven of these Trump Towers attracted more mentions than any of the other twelve newly announced candidates did at any time. In fact, even when talk about Trump was in a relave valley, the mention level still exceeded the menons for all the other candidates on all days except for five candidate announcement spikes, for Perry, Bush, Jindal, Chrise, and Walker. Two of Trump’s Towers occurred on the same day as Chrise and Walker.”

That quote’s courtesy of the Peoria Project’s Michael Cornfield and Lara Brown, from their annotated slides illustrating the findings (the raw slides are embedded below). You can also check out their full analysis, if you’re into “words”.

You’ll see Trump’s dominance from the numbers — by measure after measure, he’s the king of social (and mainstream media) discussion about the presidential race by a large margin. But here’s the trick, which the researchers pointed out in a recent call to discuss the report. As Lara Brown put it, Trump’s “not necessarily doing the work to turn that share of voice into actual votes and the eventual nomination.”

Brown notes that Clinton and Cruz both continue to get larger shares of voice than most of the non-Trump field, but that they also continue to convert those conversations into large numbers of website shares and retweets of on-message campaign tweets. I.e., they’re turning in-the-moment attention into new supporters and the amplification of their campaign themes. By contrast, the conversation about Trump is about TRUMP…and if he fades from the conversation, he may find nothing left but the public memory of a flash-in-the-pan (if a notably coiffed one).

Of course, you can argue that Trump IS his campaign, and it’s clear that tradional political organizing isn’t what’s powering his rise. As Jonathan Chait put it this week,

His affect supplies his appeal — he is strong, mad, and, above all, unapologetic in a world that demands he apologize. Trump is not the spokesman for an idea at all, but the representation of undifferentiated resentment.”

It may be irrelevant that he’s not building what professionals would recognize as a campaign apparatus — his followers are sick sick of the trappings of contemporary politics in the first place. His outrageous talk is fuel for their political fire…until his flame finally goes cold.

Get the full scoop at the Peoria Project site, and check out the slides below for the numbers.


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Colin Delany
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