5 Lessons We Learned from Twitter Analytics During the 2016 Presidential Campaign

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Master's in Political Management Online

Date: March 22, 2017

Subject: In this webinar, Michael Cohen will discuss the PEORIA project and Five Lessons We Learned from Twitter Analytics During the 2016 Presidential Campaign.


GW POL Webinar
[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]
Melissa: Welcome everyone to the George Washington University’s Master’s in Political Management program webinar. Thank you for taking the time to join us today. We have Michael Cohen, the interim director of the Master’s in Political Management program on the call with us today. He’ll be discussing five lessons we learned from Twitter analytics during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Again I want to welcome and introduce our speaker, Michael Cohen. So as I mentioned Mike is the interim director of the Political Management program at the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In addition to his administrative duties he teaches an online course in applied research and a capstone class in the application of political power taught on campus.
So Dr. Cohen’s research focuses on the interaction between political messaging, social media and public opinion. He serves as chief data scientist of the Public Echoes of Rhetoric in America project which focuses on this nexus of political communication. Outside of GW, Dr. Cohen is a founder and CEO of Cohen Research Group, a polling and market research firm in Washington, D.C. and this group publishes Congress in Your Pocket, an award winning suite of political directories for mobile devices.
He has served as political strategist and polling team lead at Microsoft Corporation, vice president of public affairs and Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates and began his career at the Gallup organization, rising to senior research director. While completing his doctorate he worked for the Republican Party of Florida, helping to lead races for the state legislature. Dr. Cohen earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Florida – he’ll say Go Gators – you can follow him on his LinkedIn or Twitter which are included on the left hand side of the slide.
Hi, Mike, thanks for being here today. I’m going to pass it over to you for the presentation.
Michael: Thank you very much, Melissa, I really appreciate it. And I really appreciate all of you coming down today, I’m sure all the way from wherever you are to your computers to listen to this and hopefully to interact with us online with your questions. And so with that let’s start today’s agenda.
So today I want to introduce GW’s graduate school political management to you as well as the PEORIA project. There are five things I want you to learn about the research that we’ve done. The account dominance which is catching then overwhelming the opposition which is what happened, what we saw in the PEORIA Project last year. The hashtag volume, steering the conversation around moments in the campaign. We found a lot of great information around that. Active engagement, leveraging mentions, quotes and re-tweets, we found some very interesting real world consequences of that, particularly for the Bernie Sanders’ campaign. And follower persistence, this happens like when you lose an election what happens to all your followers, do they just leave you or do they stick around. If you stick around on this here webcast you will learn the answer to that. And then finally, what is the future impact of all the stuff that we learned last year and how does it impact what we call the permanent campaign, sort of a long term political science term and it basically comes down to a few things which I will describe soon. And then, of course, we’ll wrap up with some key takeaways, how to follow us and how to contact us.
And just so you know, before we start, there’ll be plenty of contact information for the team here at Pearson and also over here at GW and we certainly want to be available if you have any questions about the program or even about our research or if you wanted just to dial me up and talk about what you want to do with your life.
So what is the PEORIA Project? This PEORIA Project is a research project of GW here at the Graduate School of Political Management. We study and teach the how-tos of campaigning and offer what we call an MBA for politics. It’s very hard for political science majors to really sort of break out of the idea that they can do more than just go to law school and what we offer here at GW is a very unique applied program on how you can go ahead and work in politics. We are not very interested in you becoming academics like me, dork people like me – for 20 years I wasn’t one, but, so anyway at this point in my career I am – we are much more interested in you coming down to campus, learning how to actually interact in political situations and then go out and do really well and then hopefully come back to campus and talk to us and follow us over here, of course at GSPM at GWU.
Now, the measuring, the public echoes of rhetoric in America, the first release of this project was back in May 2015, actually before I started on with the project. And then the second phase I was brought on to work with professors Cornfield and Brown over at GW and we’ve been monitoring the governing ahead of the mid-term elections. We’re also going to be working with several people in certain countries following their elections. So there’s elections in Chile, there’s elections in Mexico coming up and we’re going to be using the techniques that we learned over the PEORIA Project to follow what’s going on over there and sort of try to predict where it’s going.
It’s really fascinating information, it’s sort of again the nexus between social media and polling and all sorts of other things in political science and we’re trying to wrap it up into this PEORIA Project, it’s really a lot of fun. The main goal of the research is really to understand how voters react to campaign messages and from our perspective it’s not just campaigning, it’s also governing.
Now about this program, what can the world do with an MBA for politics, how would you describe this to a parent or to a friend or even to your significant other who’s looking at you saying “Why do you want to go back to school?” Well, the idea here is that you spend a couple years with us, you take two classes per semester, so you take two in the spring, two in the summer, two in the fall and you end up at the end with essentially 33 to 39 credits. And you can get a graduate degree elsewhere, right, in political science you can get it in public policy or you can just go to law school. And what I tell people more than anything is that if you want to be a lawyer, by God, go to law school. If you don’t know what you want to do with your life and you’re just being told hey why not go to law school, that is the worst possible decision you can make. Because there is a ton of people going through law school and it’s become much more competitive than you would think and the people who are really doing well are people who actually want to be lawyers.
So if you want to be a lawyer go to law school, great. If you want to work at a think tank and that’s really what you want to focus on your life on, go get a degree in public policy. If you want to work in academia, go get yourself a Ph.D. in political science like I did 20 years ago. But if you actually want to do other things and other things meaning like you want to work at an agency, an association, you want to be a campaign consultant, you want to be on congressional staff, you want to work for a multi-national firm in their government relations group, if you want to work for a trade group or public affairs firm or work for a national party, if you actually want to practice politics, this is the graduate degree that I have, that I am real excited about. This is a degree that frankly I went at the end of my undergraduate degree and applied for. I got money elsewhere and so I decided to do that at the University of Florida and stay which was actually a good call cause I met my wife there and I met my family and, you know, it really worked out for me. But this was the top degree when I was thinking about working in politics right away my ideas shifted and I decided that eventually I wanted to go to academia which is why I didn’t enroll in GSPM so it’s sort of an honour to come back here and try and lead this program.
The Master’s in Political Management, if you have, let’s say, for example, you’re joining us today from somewhere else and you’re not in the DMV over here in, you know, either the district, Maryland or Virginia and let’s say you’re somewhere on the west coast or somewhere else and you can’t get down here or you can’t interrupt your life, you can do the program online. And again, it’s the same 36 credits, same 12 courses, you get four introductory requirements and then you get seven electives. All the classes on the online version are fully online and they’re asynchronous so they work with your schedule.
So let’s say you’re working, you know, in the state legislature you can’t just somehow skip out on meetings at the state legislature and then go to work, you know, do your class work. You can go ahead and log in and do the work and complete your degree that way. Online is three 14 week semesters divided into six terms, each is six weeks long. The final three credits are a Washington residency or the applied research project. The Washington residency is neat cause after all this time of being away it’s pretty cool if you can swing it to come to D.C. and do your final credits here. If you can’t you end up online with me and that’s not necessarily a bad thing cause I love to teach this stuff. As you see in my background I do market research and polling for a living before I came here so when you come to me I help you through your research project and it’s really great. You get to choose your own project that you want to study, it’s not something that I assign to you and I help be your research sherpa all the way through.
And then finally most people do take two classes per semester and they take them sequentially. And so anyway if you come here to campus all classes meet once a week on Foggy Bottom campus from 7:10 to 9:40 p.m. and the reason why we do that is because the vast majority of people that we have come to campus are people who work for a living and so this is something they’re doing at night. And so we try to respect that and schedule classes accordingly. There are three semesters like I said earlier, there’s fall, spring and then there’s a shorter term in the summer which is 10 weeks. The final three credits are political power and practice and you do write a research project and you also happen to find your way back to me. So I teach that class in person as well and so again, you know, I love teaching that class, it’s great getting people at the end of their academic career over here at GSPM. And by that time it’s really fun to hear where they’re going to be going. Again, most people take two classes each semester simultaneously.
So admissions, how do you get started on this thing. Well, first you go ahead and you apply, so you go online you apply. There’s a $35 fee to apply. You have to write a statement of purpose, current resume, three letters of recommendation, your basic transcripts and we actually waive the GRE if you have a GPA 3.0 or higher. And I remember this pretty clearly because I remember taking the GRE and I hated the GRE and I hated all these standardized tests that we have to take. So if you’ve got yourself a 3.0 you got your get out of GRE card.
The upcoming start date, so get us on your calendar, we’ve got a summer term coming up on May 8th which is online. On campus it’s May 22nd. Contact your enrolment advisor today if you’re interested, there’s a phone number and email information and you can directly book a telephone appointment below if you want to go ahead and click on the link.
So let’s talk about the campaign, these are lessons learned from the campaign. So there’s an early benchmark of support. When you’re looking at the baseline of political campaigns now I think there’s one thing that you probably can’t avoid anymore, it’s how many Twitter followers do you have. And if you are a first time candidate and you’re running for dog catcher I totally understand you’re not going to have a million dog catcher friends or friends of dogs or friends of people how like dogs who are following you on Twitter. But one of the things that we did miss – and by me I mean pretty much a lot of people who watch this campaign either from an academic or from a practitioner or even from a journalistic standpoint – is the strength of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed as he was coming in. His announcement was on June 16, 2015 and at that point he had three million followers. Also at that point Hillary Clinton who had been in the public eye for 30 years had 3.2 million followers. That’s a big deal when you look at it in context of where we’re going to be going in this discussion.
As you might imagine Bernie Sanders at the starting gate, May of 2015 had 41,732 followers. It’s hard to underestimate how unknown Bernie Sanders was to the general population. If you think about it too Jeb Bush was actually really well known and he had close to 200,000 which really is not all that much. Marco Rubio had 706,000. So some of this is generational, some of it is just sort of popularity from knowing people over years and years and years. But both Clinton and Trump had significant early advantages over their fields. Bernie Sanders opened with a little more than half of the followers of John Kasich but became the third overall during the campaign.
So what’s the importance of account dominance, this is one of the lessons that we learned. Trump overtook Clinton very early in the campaign. This is something that was missed by us but we saw it in retrospect. And the idea here is that even though he was a celebrity his campaign, his account – which he uses, realdonaldtrump, and is still using today, of course, cause you wouldn’t get rid of that, that’s a brand that he built – was significantly behind Clinton but he actually passed Clinton in October of 2015. That should have been a huge warning sign for the campaign, for Clinton’s campaign and also Trump knew that he was onto something. He had millions more followers so he had a bigger megaphone than anyone else he was running against. And Trump began the campaign well behind Clinton but again passed her in October and then continued to grow during the campaign at a much faster rate. This is something that shows what we believe to be, is a different kind of strength. So you look at money, you look at volunteers, you maybe even look at, you know, personal characteristics when you’re running for office. But this is actually support that you can engage and you can actually deploy when you need it.
The only other candidate that became a threat to this dominance was Sanders but he grew at the same rate as Clinton but he was never able to close the gap. And so when you look at all of the lines on the bottom, all of those were growing at sort of like a very moderate pace. What really happened was that Cruz and Kasich were never able to close in on followers and so you never saw the kind of enthusiasm that you would hope if you were Cruz or Kasich [unintelligible 00:15:23] to overtake Trump. Trump basically took off and never stopped.
Lesson number two, what’s the value and limits of hashtags. Everyone talks about hashtags when we’re talking about campaigns now and what we find here – and this is sort of something that a lot of campaigners use – is called a campaign message grid. And communicators of all kinds of stripes and campaign managers who try to focus on messaging and anticipate attacks and graph responses. So on the top left hand corner you have Clinton talking about herself so she’s looking at slogans like I’m With Her and Stronger Together, the ones that she polled very strongly. Then of course there are the attacks and those attacks usually come, not strategically, they come tactically.
So, for example, Clinton attacked Trump during the campaign and one of her staffers wrote Delete Your Account. It was actually the biggest re-tweeted thing in the campaign for her. But it was also the Basket of Deplorables, if you remember, that became a gaffe, we’ll talk about that in a second. Trump on Clinton, Crooked Hillary, the words that he used out of his mouth and then Lock Her Up which came out of the crowds that showed up for his rallies. And also he used it in certain cases as well.
Trump on Trump, MAGA of course, Make America Great Again. The one slogan that he used for Clinton was basically using three versions of them and then Build The Wall. So those are just basic examples.
But here’s what happens sometimes when you actually get it wrong. The Basket of Deplorables boomeranged and so it ends up being a big problem for Clinton. What happens there is that people on the right and people who are nominally for Trump all of a sudden start solidifying for Trump because they’ve been attacked by Clinton. The worst thing in the world for Clinton to do is to become part of a reason why they’re against Trump. And so Trump was able to capitalize on this, the campaign sold shirts, spontaneously people popped up all over the place selling everything again with Basket of Deplorables on it. In addition to things that were being sold people on Twitter were renaming their Twitter user names, they were also putting in their bios, they were also hashtagging that they were a deplorable. They still continue doing that to this day. And so when you see this kind of Twitter conversation shift from an attack over to something that they have to deal with as a gaffe it’s very interesting to watch.
So the top hashtag phrases that dominated the campaign were, as you would imagine, more than 20 million posts, Make America Great Again or MAGA were in hashtag phrases. What we mean by that is that any post on Twitter that included the words Make America Great Again or MAGA either with the hashtag sign or without the hashtag sign showed up in over 20 million posts. Clinton didn’t come any way near close to what Trump did. In fact the most, the second most popular phrase that I guess we did within a political sense, that we found was is Black Lives Matter and that was a movement. And as you know Black Lives Matter did participate in the Democratic National Convention and it was aligned with her but what’s so striking to me personally watching this very closely, pretty much every day during the campaign, was that a movement actually exceeded what Clinton was actually trying to push out from her own campaign.
I’m With Her came in third and if you think about it, when she shifted to become the nominee she went with Stronger Together. And if you count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, it’s number six, Stronger Together only shows up in 1.2 million posts. Which is really striking when you think about it because I’m With Her was the original hashtag phrase/slogan that the campaign used. So even though they pivoted the people who were with her stayed with her.
The other thing I would say too is that there was another movement that was anti-Trump and it was 7.1 million people had Never Trump in the entire campaign. Now Never Trump never really became a campaign in and of itself but it was definitely something that was a reaction to Trump first within the Republican Party but then after that it was also within the Democrats and independents who were, you know, appalled by certain kinds of behaviour that Trump was doing or just, you know, generally against whatever Trump was trying to push at the time.
The Basket of Deplorables is pretty interesting cause if you think about it Stronger Together was on every single thing that the campaign did once they consolidated the nomination. One bad step equalled exactly what Stronger Together did. So again, all the work that you do, all the polling, all the focus groups, all the research and printing and all the kinds of things that you do putting in your slogan can backfire immediately in one bad moment. And then, of course, there’s Lock Her UP and Build the Wall and Delete Your Account.
Trump on Trump. The idea here is that Make America Great Again was actually a very consistent thing that we saw all the way through the campaign. It was [derided] pretty early because it was sort of a rip-off from what President Reagan had in the ‘80s where he said “Let’s Make America Great Again” that was his slogan. Trump about two years before he ran for President actually trademarked Make America Great Again so that he could use it someday and he stayed on it. It was a consistent, patriotic and optimistic appeal to voters. And again it peaked on Election Day like you would imagine.
Clinton, in contrast used I’m With Her, Stronger Together and before that Ready for Hillary, if you remember that. I’m With Her always performed better than Stronger Together, even at the end of the campaign, even on Election Day I’m With Her peaked while Stronger Together just nudged up a little bit. And what this shows is that Clinton never really understood who her people really were and why they were “with her.” It was very directed towards her as opposed to Make America Great Again which was directed towards the people that he wanted to vote for him. Instead this was you’re doing something for her and Stronger Together was something just obviously never caught on because it sounds like just came right out of marketing.
Hashtags are not campaigns, this is one thing we learned during the campaign. We were looking at whether or not Never Trump was going to become a campaign. And at certain points you wondered okay well maybe this person will latch onto never Trump. For example, Marco Rubio had posted a couple of times with the hashtag Never Trump but he never really held onto it and so it never became associated with him or his campaign per se. And then later on it just became a reaction to something that happened, generally when Donald Trump was doing well.
So, for example, the reaction to Donald Trump’s victory in the South Carolina primary and the Michigan debate helped fuel the [unintelligible 00:22:33] and it was included in well over 313,000 U.S. posts, that was a peak. It had one more time left in, let’s say it was 94,000 posts on the day of the Indiana primary and it resurfaced at the beginning of the GOP convention. And, again, these were all reactions to Trump doing well. These weren’t a campaign in and of themselves, it was just sort of a place for people to rally if they were upset with Trump essentially winning the nomination or winning the election.
Lessons learned, number three. How can we active, how can active engagement outwork a larger following. This is something we were trying to understand. We wanted to understand why in the world did Bernie Sanders close and almost overtake Hillary Clinton and we think we found some of the information. Bernie Sanders never really overtook her in the polls but he narrowed the gap to about 1% on April 13. These were the places where it got very close and again the trajectory for Sanders was always up until the end where he really didn’t get anywhere near past.
Active engagement. But this explains Trump’s dominance and Sanders’ strong challenge to Clinton. As you can see in active engagement you have total engagement which is re-tweets, replies and mentions. This is essentially an analytic constructed by our partners at Crimson Hexagon. Trump had 35 million pieces of total engagement which is pretty incredible when you think about it. And when you look at the rest of, especially when you look at the rest of the field what’s very interesting here more than anything else is that Sanders actually had more engagement with fewer followers than Clinton. So he got more out of his followers than Clinton did.
Re-tweets are things that we call the exact echoes of Trump and Sanders and all the rest of the candidates. Sanders consistently outperformed Clinton on re-tweets and it’s the clearest measure of candidate engagement on the platform, a direct echo. So in other words if I’m following a candidate like Trump or Sanders and they say something, if I essentially re-tweet it I’m saying the exact same thing to all of my followers. That’s very powerful. In advertising if you can somehow get somebody to refer your product based upon something that you’ve advertised on TV, that’s a huge win. In this case in campaigns if I actually re-tweet the exact words and phrases and content that you’ve tweeted then that’s essentially expanding the range of that ad which is, you know, in a sense some of these tweets are ads.
Sanders also earned more peaks than re-tweets, in re-tweeting Clinton. So, in other words, he had sometimes better boom days than Clinton did and he was able to negate his followers’ deficit with more engagement and enthusiasm resulting in this narrowing of polling. And looking forward at campaigns if you’re starting to see re-tweets or, you know, these big boom days that we’re talking about here and you’re, you think you’re still ahead you better look in your rear-view mirror. Trumps Twitter re-tweets helped him outwork his rivals even when the polls narrowed and it sort of gave him a cushion to rebound. So any time that the polls seemed like okay Cruz was popping up or even Ben Carson or Marco Rubio he always had this base of support that was already for him immediately upon him tweeting something out. And again, this chart shows the New Years Day to the Indiana primary on May 3rd.
Fourth lesson. How do followers stay, do followers stay actually, after a candidate withdraws from a race. And the answer to us was actually pretty surprising. Our version of this was that well of course people would leave, there’s no reason for people to stay, the campaign is over. But as it turns out people do stay. And so here on the right is Twitter follower growth from suspended Republican campaigns through July 8th. And even though these candidates suspended their campaigns and even though there’s less engagement on Twitter, the followers are there for you to pick up.
So if, for example, let’s say Donald Trump doesn’t make it four years and he, Mike Pence runs. It’s possible that a Ted Cruz might say “You know what, I’m going to challenge Mike Pence.” And so what are his assets. One of his assets might be this growing and still growing Twitter feed. The followers continue to grow so when you’re looking at this you’re saying okay at withdrawal Ted Cruz had 1.09 million followers. What’s incredible to me is that Ted Cruz’s following continues to grow, he’s more than doubled his followers since he left the race. Marco Rubio has gone up about 50% and John Kasich has gone up about 90% but from a smaller base.
So the idea here is that even though you’ve run for President and lost you can continue to grow your following which leads to ways that you can go ahead and win future campaigns.
Lesson number five, how campaign, how impactful is Twitter beyond campaigns. This is a great picture, this is Donald Trump on Air Force One about after a month of governing. He says “I’m out of here, I’m leaving D.C. and I’m going to Melbourne, Florida to talk to my people.” And so he said “Life is a campaign.” This is amazing. For a guy who’s run for one thing in his life, President, not a professional campaigner, not a professional top politician says “Life is a campaign.”
And so Twitter is the best way we’ve found to track it in real time because it’s a public social medium and it’s also real time. So once Trump becomes President the percent of followers @potus which is the official account – and you can see that he’s all serious in front of the White House, and the fake White House and the flag – and then of course there’s a realdonaldtrump version. And if you look at the two of them the most important thing there is not how many followers it is, it’s how many followers since he took office on Inauguration Day. He’s, his personal Twitter feed @realdonaldtrump is up two to one, 20% increase since Inauguration Day. And POTUS is only up 10%. That’s incredible because what that means is that if you know you want to follow Donald Trump whether you want to keep tabs on him or whether you want to encourage him what you’re looking at is you know that he tweets personally and authentically @realdonaldtrump, that’s why you’re following that. And if you’re following @potus you’re following essentially the official line which is probably written by somebody else.
So in most cases, again, one of the reasons why Donald Trump did so well on Twitter in particular is because it was him, it was not somebody else. He didn’t have to put a –DJT next to it for you to know it was him, you knew what it was.
Millions of conversations are continuing on the personal account, we’re looking at about 33 million posts in Twitter volume. Most, it has skewed negative, the job approval pollings which is late February is at plus 9 disapprove on Gallup, it is plus 12 disapprove for CBS news and plus 9 approve for Rasmussen, Rasmussen does tend to go more Republican than Democrat. And here’s some of the words that people were using. POTUS, President, fake, obviously fake news, MAGA still shows up as Make America Great Again. The New York Times has been a frequent foil for the President, you know, obviously other words there as well.
Here’s the hashtag phrases from the first month. The Muslim Ban, the Muslim Ban was far and away the most important thing that people were talking about in the first month of the, of his administration, 8.3 million posts. What’s interesting to me too is that you see Make America Great Again, MAGA hanging around. The campaign’s over but they’re still using that hashtag as sort of a rallying point. Fake News is now at three million, No Ban, No Wall which is against obviously what Trump wants to do at two million. Neil Gorsuch who had been, who is now on the Hill and now defending himself to the committee. Obamacare, Build The Wall, Repeal and Replace, Never Trump still get a few of those. And Make America Sick Again which was a hashtag that Chuck Schumer tried to push out which was against the idea of repealing and replacing Obamacare.
As we go forward and we are already seeing this in some of the stuff that we’re tracking right now repeal and replace as well as Obamacare, as well as Make America Sick Again to a lesser extent are moving up. So here are some key takeaways in how to follow our research.
Twitter followers are a campaign asset and so even though Trump leveraged his campaign with an advantage and people dismissed it, it ends up being really key cause he had the largest megaphone on social media. And the other thing too that we didn’t really discuss at this point is the idea that it’s not just Twitter, Twitter not only just stays on Twitter, it’s being shared on other social media, it’s being shared in traditional media. So you’ll this every day where Trump will say something on Twitter and it becomes news. So he knows now that the flow of communication, political communication can begin on his Twitter feed.
Now future campaigns shouldn’t write this off and should look at these sort of candidates who are coming back and see what kind of Twitter followers they have because they know that now campaigns and also people who watch campaigns for a living and report on them are going to be looking at the Twitter feeds for what they’re saying. It’s going to be the first line of what people are saying every day.
So Twitter engagement can help close a campaign gap. Sanders basically proves that an enthusiastic following can have a stronger voice than a larger and a less engaged following like Clinton’s. And this is a reflection of campaign enthusiasm, it helped close the gaps in polling and made the race much more competitive than it ever really should have been.
And then finally Twitter impacts the public debate beyond the campaigns. We are seeing this now with the election of Donald J. Trump. Anytime that he tweets something out it becomes news. If he tweets out something saying that Obama somehow wiretapped him it becomes a Congressional investigation. He can drive not only the morning news but he can drive long term news from his Twitter account.
And here’s some more contact for us. I am the political management program director, the interim version of it. We have Michael Cornfield who is the global director for political engagement research director, my partner in crime on this stuff. You can reach him over at corn@gwu.edu. Again all of our phone numbers and all of our email addresses and our Twitter feeds are there for you to see. And Laura Brown who is the Graduate School of Political Management director who’s fantastic and also has been a great mentor for me.
And you can just follow the PEORIA Project if you just want to follow the work that we’re doing, you can follow @peoriaproject on Twitter. And with that we have an enrolment advisor, you know, available to talk to you about the program if you are interested in Graduate School of Political Management. And I’m here to answer any questions you might have about some of the work that we’ve done. Thank you very much for the opportunity and I will hang on the line.
Melissa: Thanks so much for the presentation, Mike. So I do have a couple questions, first off, Alice who is thinking about maybe running a campaign in 2020 was wondering how the program could help set people up for success in the campaigns.
Michael: That’s a great question and I think what we do is we sort of teach you the tools to be successful. So we give you a whole bunch of different kinds of classes whether your particular interest is in digital or whether it’s in advertising or polling so you can get yourself up to speed on things that you might want to do or manage. So if you’re a campaign manager you’ll want to get interested in all kinds of things so that when you’re running the show you’ll be able to understand, you know, the kind of information you’ll be getting and how to be a much more effective campaign manager. We actually teach campaign management at GSPM and so it’s a really great question.
Melissa: Great. And so Blanca actually has a question that’s similar on the same lines as Alice’s question. She wanted to know if you can apply the five lessons learned in local campaigns not just federal ones and if you have any books that you recommend to learn more about managing political campaigns.
Michael: You can apply them to local campaigns and I think what you would do is you would say, you know, how strong or weak these people are compared to each other. I mean, they’re not going to be walking around with a whole ton of, you know, Twitter followers or Facebook followers on their pages and things like that. But if you get a sense of what each campaign looks like strategically like where one looks compared to another you can get a sense early of what it looks like.
The other too is that as you’re going through you’re going to see spikes in different kinds of social media and you’re going to see that even if the polling is wrong or you feel it’s wrong whether or not it makes sense based upon other information that you’re getting. So, for example, with Sanders, Sanders was closing in polling and you were looking for reasons why and it wasn’t just that he was the only candidate vs. Hillary Clinton or that Hillary Clinton was sort of a lacklustre, you know, candidate. It was really because his people were much more interested and a measure of that were these peaks and valleys that we saw online.
And so, yes, I would say you can apply those lessons to local campaigns, it’s just it’s not going to be in the millions, it’ll be in the thousands and hundreds.
And I guess the book that I would recommend would be a book that my colleague Matthew Dallek over at GSPM just finished up with two other folks, Feltus and Goldstein, called Inside Campaigns, Elections Through The Eyes of Political Professionals. It’s really great and it’s much more, not only interactive but it’s also very interesting to hear some of the stories that are coming out of real campaigns. I mean, I, we do a lot of, you know, we do some reading of course over at the program but the books that we all tend to really love are the ones that are really like war stories. And so it’s a great book about, within that kind of context, I would recommend it.
Melissa: Okay, sounds good. We’ve got another question from Tina. She was curious if you think that there was a social media generation gap. What she means by that is that she thinks that Trump had some younger followers and Sanders also did but she thinks that Clinton fell short on the young folks who are a little more social media savvy. Do you agree there was a generation gap there?
Michael: We actually looked at some of that data and it’s not in here cause otherwise I would take up, you know, three hours of your time, we have tons of it. But we did look at age and yes, there was definitely an age gap in people who were tweeting for and following Clinton vs. Sanders and Trump. Which I find incredible actually, if you think about it, you know, Trump and Sanders are not exactly millennials. And so the idea that they’re somehow appealing to millennials is actually very striking. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it within terms of Sanders, you know, a lot of his platform was focused on things that millennials were concerned about.
And Trump, you know, he clearly was a different kind of Republican, he was more open to gay marriage and other social issues that Republicans had not been traditionally open to. And frankly, you know, far to the left of most of the field. So I think that there was a definite gap in not only online but also in reality.
Melissa: And just curious, did you guys actually take a look at Clinton’s followers and Sanders’ followers after the campaign, did they go up, go down?
Michael: Yeah, they both went up throughout the campaign and they continued to go up. And they went up essentially at the same rate. But the problem was for Sanders was that, you know, he was never able to close the gap. Whereas if you looked at Trump vs. Clinton, for example, he not only closed the gap but he overtook her. And so his rate of growth was much higher than Trumps, I’m sorry, than Clinton’s or Sanders’. So they continued to grow but they grew at sort of a very steady rate whereas Trump really took off like a rocket.
Melissa: Another question from Tina. She wanted to know if you think that Trump’s driving of the news via his social media account borders on state-controlled media now that he’s President.
Michael: I think it’s not a really great question for me to answer, I’m sorry. It’s [not] state-controlled media. I guess the best way I would say it is that it’s like any other technology that comes online. You know, we’re all sort of the front end of this. I think about the years where Reagan was charged with trying to, you know, run his own [unintelligible 00:40:11] out of the White House and he was using TV because they decided to have a line of the day or a, you know, sort of a battle plan for communications for the day. I think this is essentially an outgrowth of that and sort of a reaction to the platforms that he’s being provided. I don’t know that it’s a state-controlled media. In fact if you’ve been on Twitter, for example, you’ll see that there’s plenty on both sides, you know, yelling and screaming at each other and trying to get noticed. And I don’t know that he can control, for example, social media. It’s just sort of another avenue for him to be able to use.
Melissa: Okay. Makes sense. So Hayley has a question in terms of if you could talk a little more about the difference in impact between digital and TV. So from what she’s [unintelligible 00:40:57] together with campaign strategists that have done specific experimentation on this she’s found that because voter age is on average much higher and tends to be there for more TV watchers vs. the digital social media which are younger, if there’s, you know, much of a difference in terms of digital vs. TV and how your data might fit into the digital vs. TV narrative.
Michael: Okay. I can’t speak to the power of TV other than, you know, stuff that I didn’t present. But I can say this that, you know, different audiences are engaged in different places. Now I’ll say that TV still seems to be a place where people go, you know, for entertainment but I still say too that a lot of that entertainment is going towards our mobile devices. So if I miss This is Us for whatever reason and my wife and I want to sit down and watch it, you know, we punch it up on our mobiles. And the, you know, the information, the TV video viewing that experience is very different than watching a TV show.
The other thing too that I would say is that if we’re watching it in real time it’s a very different experience than if we’re watching it, for example, on Apple TV or, you know, sort of replay from the app. Because you can’t skip the commercials on the app but then again the app commercials are so generic that you’re probably not getting it from a campaign. Whereas like if I’m watching This is Us in real time I may actually get a local campaign ad, you know, from my member of Congress or from the President, you know, during a campaign that I may be looking at or skipping over.
So I don’t know that the power of TV vs. digital and social media has been settled at this point. I would say that it’s sort of in flux. And I would also think that the fact of the matter is that digital and social media is where the ball is going as opposed to where everything has been because that’s where everybody’s really engaging. When you’re getting stuff from TV or from radio or something like that it’s very passive. Whereas with social media you are going out to see things then you can share things. Part of the interesting part of the data we had here was this idea of engagement and the reason why Sanders was actually able to close the gap between Clinton and him even though he didn’t have as many followers because they were much more engaged. And they were much more likely to show up on Election Day.
Whereas TV and video is very hard to be engaging unless it’s terrific. And my view of the last campaign was that most of the ads were fairly negative and none of them really broke through. There have been some campaigns where negative ads have broken through as well as positive ads but in this case I’m seeing that it was less powerful than the overwhelming megaphone that was coming out of Twitter and social media, for example, for Sanders and for Trump.
Melissa: Alright, So Brianne wants to know if you think we’ll see any future candidates using this Trump system in regards to social media or do you think that it’ll still work for them or that it just worked for him because no one else had really done it before like that?
Michael: I think we’re in a situation right now where it happens in most communication advances. So if you look at radio, you look at TV, you look at internet and now we’re at social media there was always a president that became the president of. You know, the president of radio was Roosevelt, the president of TV was Reagan, the present of the internet, you know, to begin with was, you know, Clinton and Howard Dean to a certain extent when he was running. And now the president of social media seems to be Trump.
But I think that candidates will try to fit their personalities and their tendencies into this with varying, you know, levels of expertise. The one thing I would say is that the reason why social media works so well for Trump, more than anything else and this is sort of just an overall feeing and based on upon the data and based upon, you know, my conversations with people who worked on both campaigns is that Trump was authentic. And it was perfect in the moment against Clinton because she was not seen as an authentic human being.
And so him by misspelling things, by giving exclamation points after the word sad or even saying things that might be on the edge of what you would normally expect from a presidential candidate it made him seem real compared to how she was perceived. And I can see other situations where, for example, you have someone who’s popping off and is not seen that someone they want to keep and you have a very calm reasoned person who’s running against that incumbent and it works better for the challenger. I think they’re, all campaigns are really interdependent based upon who the candidates are and then the strategy on how to use the platforms really needs to flow from that.
And I think, so for example, I think social media is obviously here to stay but how people use it will depend upon who the candidates are and who they’re competing with and that’s how they have to go ahead and figure out how to win. Obviously Trump, you know, was sort of more instinctual and you know, from the gut but I will predict that most campaigns that are following, you know, from here are going to try and learn the lessons. And I think one of the big lessons is that you have to be authentic.
Melissa: That makes sense. So we’re going to do one more topic question then I’ve got a couple program questions. So in terms of the topic just one last one, just curious if there’s any use any parallels between FDR’s fireside chats and Trump’s current Twitter feed? Similar, different?
Michael: Well, I think what they’re both doing is they’re essentially using the platforms that they can use, right. And so the best platform for FDR to get out to people were these fireside chats. And, you know he used them to great effect and he was able to rally the country, he was able to move his messages and, you know, hold people who would be with him and then pull people toward him.
In Trump’s case it’s a different time where I don’t think he’s really using the platform to try and convince anybody. I think he’s doing, he’s using the platform to keep his people with him. I don’t know that he’s into persuasion of others who are against him, I think he’s more along the lines of speaking to his own audience. And so it’s more reflective of the time right now where we’re bifurcated between Democrats and Republicans, even independents are really leaning one way or the other. Even though they say they’re independent, if you talk to your favourite independent friend, uncle you know, or parent and you ask them the question like “Well, how many people have you ever voted for on Democrats and how many people have you voted for for Republicans?” most people will tell you that they’ve never voted for one or the other. And so in reality people who say that they are independent are actually on one or the other.
And so I think that Trump is fireside chatting through Twitter so to speak to his own people and is not really trying to pull others to him. I think that’s the main difference.
Melissa: Okay, so shifting to a little bit more of a program-specific question, we know that the program is built for election campaigns and political campaigns. In terms of more issue based campaigns, i.e. Black Lives Matter, do you think that that’s something that information would be applicable to?
Michael: Oh, absolutely, oh gosh, and actually we’re going to be having a panel coming up on April 5th where we’re having somebody from Black Lives Matter come and talk about it. The one big aha moment while we were all watching the campaign Black Lives Matter was taking over the year. And so they were very, very strong and on Twitter and they were very strong on multiple platforms. And so what it says too to me looking at this is that even in the heat of a political campaign one of the most contentious campaigns I’ve ever seen on any level, you can still get through all of that noise if you are an issue-based campaign. Which is incredible, it really is if you think about it nothing should have risen to the level of being number two under Make America Great Again and this year it did. And, you know, some of that has to do with what happened this year but some of it has to do with the effectiveness of that campaign.
And so I think that’ll be a campaign that we’ll be studying for a very, very long time. Normally you’re able to break through on an issue-based campaign on an off year or even, you know, in between presidential campaigns. But during a presidential campaign to see that kind of footprint that they really laid out there is really pretty amazing. And so I think all those people who were involved on that campaign are just rock stars and we’ve got to learn, there’s a book in that to learn how they did it and it’s certainly a panel that I’m looking forward to moderating.
Melissa: And do you think that things that, the course content that people learn through GPSM would help them with an issues-based campaign like that or is it –
Michael: – Oh, absolutely, yeah. I mean, yeah, we have different tracks and so, you know, we have a legislative track, we have issue-based campaigns that we have classes on that. We have all kinds of things that, frankly, if you’re much more interested in, you know, issue-based things or associations or, for example, if you just want to work for Verizon, their government relations, you know, department, I mean, all of those groups have campaigns so to speak. And it’s not just, you know, electoral campaigns, you know, or not just something that’s going to happen on Election Day where it’s like a prop or something like that. You know, these are things that might move around the Hill, I mean, yeah, absolutely.
We do a ton of work with our students on that and there are definitely a lot of opportunities for people to get really engaged and understanding like how those work and, you know, be able to bring those skills with them out into the real world.
Melissa: Great. So, just last question from John, he just wants to know if you can describe the content of the online course work. Is it more at your own pace, is it more [forum-]based, case study, what can they expect?
Michael: It is varied. I would encourage you to take a look online. The course syllabi are actually online if you’re interested. And I would say to you that since it’s asynchronous the best kind of person for the online program is somebody who is a) probably extraordinarily busy and not in D.C. but b) if you’re really organized a lot of it is at your own pace. The professors are there to help you, there are weekly chats, there are classes, there are, sometimes they have, you know, open forum online. Some professors actually have, hold specific lectures online and so it does vary quite a bit. But I would say to you this, the content of what you will learn online is the content you will learn in classroom as well. It’s just more open, you know, to your schedule.
Melissa: Okay, that sounds good. And do you think this program is catered to any specific audience in terms of, is it more catered towards the younger group or older group or is it applicable to everybody?
Michael: That’s a really good question. I think that the idea here would, the concern would be okay what if I’m a 40-something or a 50-something and I want to go back and get this degree, is it still for me. And I would say yes. In my capstone class, for example, we have, you know, millennials, X-ers and a couple boomers. And so from my perspective this is really just for somebody directed towards somebody who is very, very interested in politics and actually wants to work in it. And it really doesn’t matter for us when you start, you know, at what age. You’re obviously treated the same way and on top of that, you know, we’re just as interested in your life experience.
Most of the people who do our program online, for example, tend to be a little bit older because they have lives and they don’t want to upset their lives, you know, and they probably live somewhere else. The younger people who come to, it’s more likely that the younger people will be here because they just haven’t, you know, built their lives yet. And so if you’re only a couple years out of college it’s pretty likely that you can probably go ahead and do this program. But if you’re five, 10, 15 years, you know, out of college it’s very likely that you’ll want to do it online because you’re trying to fit this into everything else that’s in your life.
And so I would say that, you know throughout the program like if you are, you know, young or older there is a place for you in the [unintelligible 00:53:36] also see it in different places too, you know. So, in other words there’s plenty of people online who are young and there’s plenty of people in my classrooms that are older. So it’s there for you.
Melissa: Okay, perfect. So I think that’s a great place for us to end off. We’ve got a couple minutes you guys can get back now. We just want to say thank you, Mike, for your time and for going over all the information with us.
Michael: Of course.
Melissa: If anybody has any questions you can contact [unintelligible 00:54:02] our enrolment advisor through her phone number, the website, if you want to book an appointment. I just want to say thank you to everyone for coming out today. Have a great day.
Michael: Thank you everybody very much, we look forward to seeing you, take care.
[End of recorded material 00:54:14]