Donald Trump and the 'Oxygen of Publicity': Branding, Social Media, and Mass Media in the 2016 Presidential Primary Elections
Paper prepared for the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting 2016
27 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2016
Date Written: August 25, 2016
Can political communication specialists benefit from developments in social media intelligence in the business sphere? The corporate world and management studies academics have focused a significant amount of attention on translating online data into actionable intelligence about consumer behavior. At the same time, political scientists are increasingly using online data to test and refine a range of theories, particularly relating to public opinion and voting behavior. This paper, which reports on a joint management/political communication seed grant project from the ADVANCE program at the University of Maryland, explores the extent to which each field can usefully inform the other. We used the early primary campaigns for the U.S. 2016 presidential elections as a case study, finding that Republicans did not establish brand elements of their campaigns on their own websites. We used a broader study of the media ecosystem and brands in election campaigns, finding that traditional media outlets continue to play a large role in amplifying and spreading particular political ‘brand’ elements (e.g. Trump’s immigration stance) in ways that overwhelmed attempts by both seasoned and novice presidential campaigns to attract voter attention in a crowded race. Social media then amplified this brand. Thus, social media intelligence and branding can be a useful part of understanding political brands, but only when this intelligence is deployed within a broader analysis of media ecosystems. We suggest a campaign message flow model for measuring and analyzing how ideas packaged as ‘brands’ can be tracked in a media ecosystem. We also consider the relationship between extremism and media, suggesting that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s conviction that the mass media gave credence to extremism through the “oxygen of publicity” may be the most relevant model for understanding the role of the media in the 2016 U.S presidential elections. Ultimately, our cross-disciplinary approach to social media intelligence holds promise in analyzing how candidate brands/messages are remediated through the legacy media and how these brands/messages resonate among voters.
Keywords: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Elections, Campaigns, Social Media, Newspapers
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