Last night, President Donald Trump ran a little experiment on us.
It came in the form of rapid-fire CAPSLOCK tweets, lazily interpreted by the fake news media as some kind of COVID delirium. Payback, perhaps, designed to mock Michael Moore’s earlier paranoia about Trump’s momentary silence, which followed other hotly debated activities such as walking across the White House lawn.
Slightly wiser political commentators assumed that the President was re-asserting his online presence after crawling out of hospital. A bit of good old fashioned election PR. We could be witnessing the future of digitally-distanced election rallying.
I doubt it.
Trump is not a brooding Machiavellian mastermind, but he does understand the subtleties of social media better than its CEOs. What he did last night was to cleverly poll the Republican base on election hot buttons. The barrage consisted of eighteen tweets summarising campaign slogans, put out as fast as Trump could type them, with the instruction ‘vote!’ finishing each line. The inclusion of a control tweet to account for any natural variance in Twitter’s wayward engagement behaviour, gives the game away.
Time is short and COVID requires political brevity of Trump.
With so much enthusiasm and noise, he has to find the momentum beneath the wave in order to rile it up into a victory. There are two ways to get this information. The first is to poll carefully selected clusters of people and hope that they don’t lie or come from Silicon Valley. The second is to toss ideological scraps to the mob and see what gets devoured.
Commentators know, to their embarrassment, the limited value of traditional polling. Who would stake their career on the mutterings of a focus group these days (well, aside from at the ABC, where catastrophic errors in judgement usually result in a pay rise).
Polls are at their most accurate when people do not suspect the answers are being judged. Cold calls from strangers rarely inspire honesty. With tweets, Trump catches the feverish interest of his base in the ratio of ‘likes’ along with raging opposing arguments in the replies. Fierce interaction on both statistics reveals the location of coveted undecided voters.
In short, coughing all over Twitter is an effective way to gauge the heartbeat of the crowd.
Josh Frydeberg won’t be trying it tonight, but he has 18 months to fine-tune his message before the next election. Trump has 28 days.
At the time of writing, ‘PRO LIFE! VOTE!’ is outpacing, ‘FIGHT THE CORRUPT FAKE NEWS MEDIA. VOTE!’ – all well ahead of religious liberty, law and order, military power, and tax cuts.
More to the point, ‘SPACE FORCE. VOTE!’ is chasing their heels. Find me the brave news anchor who would have said that Americans care more about a gimmicky space project than healthcare… I’ll wait.
Before you rave in your replies that, ‘Twitter isn’t real life’ – just remember, neither is the opinion of a sample poll, the consensus of experts, or the rhetoric of the mainstream press. Despite appearances, politics has never been governed by noise. It is the whispers around dinner tables that cast the final vote. Are you listening?
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.