Politics

Introducing the Trump Twitter Filter

A way to gauge how much of what the president tweets really matters.

The Twitter app is seen on various digital devices on March 28, 2018.

Photographer: Jaap Arriens

It's hard to know how much attention to pay to President Donald Trump's tweets. Sometimes they generate a lot of attention and not much else. Other times they reflect policy moves with potentially far-reaching consequences. Given the sheer volume and variety of the president's Twitter feed, separating the signal from the noise can be a daunting task.

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Here at Bloomberg View, we want to help. Hence, we're experimenting with what we'll call the Trump Twitter filter. Using data 1 and good old-fashioned human judgment, it attempts to quantify what share of the president's tweets pertain to his agenda, as laid out during his campaign, and to determine whether they reflect movement toward or away from his stated goals. Along the way, it might also uncover some insights into the president's psyche and priorities.

The filter consists of three measures, in increasing order of subjectivity: volume, relevance and effectiveness. The first is simply the number of original tweets (as opposed to retweets). The second is the percentage of those tweets that relate to one or more of 10 agenda categories, including immigration, trade, health care, taxes, infrastructure, defense, regulation, justice, education and veterans' affairs. 2 A tweet about the blockade of Qatar for allegedly fomenting terrorism, for example, would relate to defense (defeating Islamic State).

The third and most subjective is the extent to which agenda-related tweets reflect progress toward (or away from) Trump's campaign goals. If a tweet on scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement prompted Canada and Mexico to offer to renegotiate, that would count 100 percent as movement toward Trump's trade objectives. A tweet that harmed the chances of his travel ban in court might get a score of negative 50 percent. Add up all the scores, divide by the number of tweets, and you get an effectiveness ratio.

This isn't meant to be a partisan endeavor. The aim is to analyze the president's Twitter behavior on his own terms. If you like his agenda, you'll probably be pleased to see him paying attention and making progress. If not, you won't.

Twitter Filter for the Week Through June 11

Trump focused more on his campaign agenda than at any point in his presidency, in what appeared to be at least partly an effort to divert attention from the main news event of the week: Former FBI chief James Comey's testimony about Trump and Russia. The tweeting didn’t reflect much progress, though, and in some cases actually undermined the president's objectives.

The volume of tweets in the week ending June 11 was pretty close to average, at 33:

Trump's Twitter Volume

Source: Trump Twitter Archive, author's calculations

Among other things, the president held forth on his effort to ban travel from certain Middle Eastern countries, the London mayor's response to a terrorist attack, privatizing air traffic control, repealing ObamaCare and reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs. This brought his on-agenda share to 73 percent, the highest level since he took office in January:

Relevance Ratio

Source: Trump Twitter Archive, author's calculations

The direction of movement, though, was mixed. Trump's comments on the travel ban probably strengthened the legal case against it. His support of the blockade of Qatar may have antagonized a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. No progress was made on actually privatizing air-traffic control or investing in infrastructure. That said, Trump did mention two legislative actions that furthered his agenda: The Senate's passage of the VA Accountability Act, which would make it easier to fire poorly performing employees; and the House's approval of the Financial Choice Act, aimed at providing regulatory relief for banks.

Once the forward and backward movement netted out, the effectiveness ratio came to a low 2 percent:

Effectiveness Ratio

Source: Trump Twitter Archive, author's calculations

In short, a week of not much signal and a lot of noise.

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

  1. Many thanks to programmer Brendan Brown and his Trump Twitter Archive.

  2. To be more specific:

    1. Immigration: Build a wall on the Mexican border, tighten immigration and deport illegal aliens.
    2. Taxes: Cut taxes for companies and the middle class, provide added support for child care.
    3. Health care: Repeal and replace ObamaCare.
    4. Trade: Renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA, get tough on China, raise trade barriers.
    5. Infrastructure: Rebuild transportation, water, energy and other infrastructure.
    6. Defense: Defeat ISIS, boost spending on military and cybersecurity.
    7. Regulation: Reduce the regulatory burden on U.S. companies, eliminate certain environmental rules.
    8. Justice: Appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, loosen limits on gun ownership, prosecute more violent criminals.
    9. Veterans: Reform Veterans Affairs and eliminate backlogs.
    10. Education: Invest in school choice, reduce cost of college and trade school.

To contact the author of this story:
Mark Whitehouse at mwhitehouse1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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