Data Scientists Find Consistencies In Donald Trump's Erratic Twitter Strategy

Aug 18, 2016
Originally published on August 18, 2016 10:50 pm
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Donald Trump has become well-known for his shoot-from-the-hip style, especially on Twitter. Now NPR's Sam Sanders examined Trump's tweets. He found that even though they can seem erratic at times, there are a few consistencies.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: But this past weekend, Donald Trump got some bad press. Some stories suggested that his campaign was in disarray, so Trump aired some grievances on Twitter. I'm going to have one of my colleagues read a few.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn't put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20 percent.

SANDERS: That was one. Trump also wrote this.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) Crooked Hillary Clinton is being protected by the media. She's not a talented person or politician. The dishonest media refuses to expose.

SANDERS: And this.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) I have always been the same person - remain true to self. The media wants me to change, but it would be very dishonest to supporters to do so.

SANDERS: This is textbook Trump - combative, insulting, self-referential, and the data agrees.

DAVID LAZER: He uses I and me a lot more than the other candidates did.

SANDERS: That's David Lazer He's a professor of political science and computer science at Northeastern University. He looked at every Trump tweet starting from when Trump joined Twitter in 2009, and he found a few things. For one, Trump tweets are very self-referential, and Trump does this little thing.

LAZER: Used adjective-noun combinations far more than anyone else.

SANDERS: You've definitely heard it before.

LAZER: Little Marco Rubio, low-energy Jeb Bush, lightweight Megyn Kelly.

SANDERS: Crooked Hillary, etc. And recently, Trump has started doing this...

KATHERINE OGNYANOVA: Ending tweets with sad - exclamation point. That's now quintessential Trump, right?

SANDERS: Yes, it is. That's Katherine Ognyanova. She was another researcher on that Trump tweet study. I talked to her via Skype, and she says Trump is more interactive on Twitter.

OGNYANOVA: He engages with people. He retweets people even when he kind of gets in trouble with them. He thanks people.

SANDERS: Yeah, he thanks people. Our colleague David Lazer says all of this - Trump's Twitter style - it's actually a big deal.

LAZER: Clearly, you can draw a line from the Howard Dean campaign in 2004 to the Obama campaign in 2008 to Trump of 2016.

SANDERS: Dean revolutionized online fundraising in 2004. Obama took grassroots organizing online to a new level in '08. And this election's tech breakthrough might be Donald Trump's ability to capture the world's attention on a regular basis with just a tweet. Dave Robinson another data scientist - he did his own analysis, and he found that Trump tweets are sent from two different types of devices and not every tweet is sent by Trump himself.

DAVE ROBINSON: Android really is the candidate tweeting for himself, and the iPhone tends to be the campaign tweeting for him.

SANDERS: And there's a difference.

ROBINSON: Trump's Android tweets are very different. He never uses hashtags. He almost never uses links or photos, and he uses a much larger number of angry words.

SANDERS: Forty percent more angry than tweets sent by the campaign. Robinson says Trump's Twitter persona is unusual.

ROBINSON: It's 100 percent clear that Trump doesn't tweet like a politician. He tweets like a celebrity.

SANDERS: So I had to ask.

Who does he remind you of in the way that he tweets?

ROBINSON: Oh, I'd say Kanye West.

SANDERS: I was just thinking that today.

Interestingly enough, Kanye and Trump have more in common than just tweets. Mr. West says that he will also run for president in 2020. Maybe if he actually runs, Kanye can look to Trump's political tweets as a guide. @samsanders, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FATHER STRETCH MY HANDS PT. 2")

KANYE WEST: (Rapping) Up in the morning, miss you bad. Sorry I ain't called you back. The same problem my father had. All his time, all he had, all he had in what he dreamed... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.