Strategy or Stupidity

By Sophie Miretsky

With the election being a crucial time for our country I, like many others, became obsessed with checking polls, and reading what the candidates were writing. In the past, I never took much time to read what President Trump tweeted. However, amidst all the madness, curiosity won me over. I checked what he wrote more often than I’d like to admit. Trump’s entire Twitter feed was shocking, somehow I’d never noticed the alarming number of typos and the overwhelming informality of the tweets. Soon I had many questions: Why was he making the spelling mistakes of a second-grader? Wouldn’t auto-correct fix his simple mistakes? Doesn’t he have his staff review his tweets before they are sent out? I knew it couldn’t be pure stupidity. I was absorbed in these questions until I came across a New York Times article that touched on this topic. This article brings up the idea that Trump isn’t as stupid as his tweets make him out to be. As I suspected, there is a strategy behind his tweets, to first engage his supporters, then to use the platform against his adversaries.

While an interesting hypothesis, I developed a slightly different take on this. What if Trump’s strategy is to be deliberately casual? It seems odd because other government officials use their social media platforms in more formal ways, but it’s a well-calculated plan. Think about how you text your friends. I, for one, send quick messages with occasional typos and informal language. When I’m expressing emotion I send things in all capital letters, as Trump does on his Twitter feed. Trump tweets as if he is talking to his close friends, an approach that increases perceived intimacy between him and his supporters making him appear more accessible. Is this really how readers of Trump’s Twitter feed perceive his Tweets? I decided to find out. 

I got to work and came up with a seven-question survey, and asked everyone I knew to fill it out. Since I didn’t know many Trump supporters, I created a dummy Facebook account and shared my survey with the 680+ thousand people on the Trump Supporter Facebook group. The survey had the participants rank their support for Trump on a scale of one to ten, one being none at all and ten being an avid supporter. Of the 45 total responses, 16 people supported Trump, 27 hated him, and 2 were undecided.

There were many common threads between people who ranked themselves similarly in terms of their support for Trump. Nearly all of the people who disliked Trump described his Twitter feed as making them feel: “Frustrated and embarrassed,” “Astonished, frightened and ANGRY,” and “nauseous.” 

In contrast, many of the passionate Trump supporters described how Trump’s tweets made them feel “good” and “like he knows what’s going on and likes to update us without it going through the media.” This information partially proves my claim that Trump’s Twitter is a functioning campaign strategy, but also forces me to change it as well. There seems to be a difference between the way a Trump supporter reacts to his tweets versus a person who doesn’t like him. The people who support Trump feel as if they have direct communication with him, through his tweets, whereas the people who do not like Trump feel that his tweets are shameful. Donald Trump uses his platform to engage his fans and to make them enthusiastic supporters instead of passive ones. 

Another question I asked in my survey is: Do Donald Trump’s tweets feel casual, based on spelling, grammar, and content? One very interesting response I received was from someone who ranked themselves a nine on my scale, who said Trump’s tweets are “Very easy to comprehend.” When I think about this response it makes me believe that the person who wrote this doesn’t understand some of the things other politicians write, but Trump uses a language more common and comprehensible for them. It made me realize another tactic that was coming into play. I’ve heard about a strategy used by powerful communicators which is utilizing something people do subconsciously, and purposefully doing it. When a person is interested in a conversation or relationship they begin to subconsciously take on the language of the other person, whether it be using words that are commonly spoken or an overall format of speech. By using the language of his supporters, Trump feels more accessible to them. 

My exploration of this topic is coming to a close, and I still have many unanswered questions, but I am more confident in my theory that Trump uses informality and the language of his supporters, to make them feel as if they have direct contact with him. This is revealing of the political climate of our country, conveying that many people feel as if those in power are the top 1%, the unreachable elite. Through Trump’s Twitter feed, they see a person like them who uses similar jargon, not just a president. Trump is more intelligent than he seems at first glance, using his public platform to send intimate messages to his followers and connecting with them on a fundamental level. If other politicians began to use this strategy perhaps some of the Trump supporters would vote for another candidate in the future who has different ideas but is just as reachable and relatable.