Social Media

Trump's Twitter Followers Care About the Wall

He gets more approval when he tweets about his campaign promises.

Policy wonks?

Photographer: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

Do people support President Donald Trump because they enjoy a good show, or because they share the goals he set out in his campaign? Judging from the reaction to his Twitter activity, they really do care about his agenda -- at least when it comes to immigration.

Most of Trump’s 700 or so original tweets this year have had nothing to do with campaign promises such as building a wall on the Mexican border, repealing Obamacare or renegotiating trade agreements. Rather, they lean toward disparaging Barack Obama, lambasting “fake” media and commenting on various Russia-related scandals. That’s been particularly true in recent weeks: Since peaking during the week his presidency hit the 100-day mark, the share of tweets related to his agenda has fallen to about 10 percent. Here’s a chart:

On-Agenda Percentage

Source: Trump Twitter Archive, author's calculations

The decline might be just a function of events, such as Trump’s firing of the FBI chief and indiscretions with top Russian officials, which have given him a lot to tweet about. But what if that’s exactly what his constituents want? What if they’re not really interested in policies, and would rather be entertained? After all, Trump is adept at doing whatever generates the most attention or approval from his audience.

Let’s see what his Twitter account tells us. Thanks to a database created by programmer Brendan Brown, it’s pretty easy to download all of Trump’s tweets, together with indicators of approval such as the number of retweets and favorites. I looked at tweets from Jan. 2 through May 19, tagging those related to his platform to see how much positive engagement they generated.

The result: People on Twitter actually do seem to care about Trump’s campaign promises. Although connection to his agenda explains less than 1 percent of the overall variation in the retweet-and-favorite count, a regression analysis suggests that it adds -- very roughly -- 10,000 to a given tweet’s count. That’s not bad, given that the average tweet garnered about 103,000 retweets and favorites.

People seem particularly interested in immigration, a category that would include tweets on building the wall, tightening border control and deporting undocumented immigrants. It adds an estimated 38,000 to the retweet-and-favorite count. Health care, by contrast, is a buzzkill: Any reference subtracts an estimated 20,000. Other agenda items didn’t have a convincing effect one way or the other.

Many of Trump’s followers undoubtedly like to watch him wreak havoc in Washington. But if his Twitter feed is any indication, returning to his agenda might -- at least in the short term -- generate more of the approval he seeks.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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