Rhetoric and persuasion are common methods used throughout advertisements, speeches, and, most of all, politics. During the current campaign, Gary Johnson, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump are using every weapon in their considerably large arsenal to sway voters to their side and ultimately win the election. Donald Trump, in particular, uses many types of persuasion and rhetorical devices throughout his Twitter feed (@realdonaldtrump) to shift people’s perspectives, as well as change or support common perceptions about his opponents. For reference, Trump’s Twitter feed, created in March of 2009, while originally was used for him to post messages about his daily life but is now primarily used to report his status on the campaign trail.
To analyze the types of persuasion Donald Trump uses throughout his Twitter feed, each tweet starting from the beginning of October was read, analyzed, then grouped into character, emotional, or logical. This analysis revealed that out of the 518 tweets posted over the month of October, 115 were used to build character, 241 used emotion, and 104 used logic. Trump primarily tried to enrage or scare the audience, but when he did try to elicit feelings of nostalgia or bliss, it was him building up his character, to get people to associate those emotions with him. Some examples of Trump’s use of mixed persuasion tactics are in these tweets:
Basically, he took something that would inflame readers, posted about why it will continue to negatively affect everyone (with the help of some statistics), and then stated how he was the only one who could fix it.
Most of his tweets are tied to Hillary Clinton, or “Crooked” as Trump refers to her, and her previous political blunders. She is a major topic throughout Trump’s feed, making up a whopping 40% of his posts since the beginning of October alone. These posts consistently talk about the corrupt and disadvantages things Clinton did and will continue to do, should she get power. Since Trump follows these posts up with his views and policies that will supposedly save the country, antithesis seems to be a common rhetorical device throughout his feed.
Other common themes throughout Trump’s feed include his belief that the government is corrupt and that the election is rigged; again, more emotional persuasion, which is shown in this tweet for example:
Another common theme is telling people to vote, and discussing voter registration, as well as upcoming Trump rallies, such as in the tweet below:
At first glance, Trump appears to be targeting a very broad and diverse audience; however, upon closer examination, there are a few common factors. One factor is anyone who dislikes Hillary Clinton or the Obama Administration. This is evidenced by the numerous tweets pointing out Clinton’s fails in her career. Another factor is anyone currently following the campaign trail, or a hard-core Republican, as many of Trump’s rally tweets or “Vote Trump!” tweets appear to be directed at the people who are already committed. A very specific target audience is middle to lower class families who are worried about the increasing costs of Obamacare or taxes. Trump consistently emphasizes the rising costs of healthcare and taxes, as well as asserting that, should he be elected, the costs will decrease. His primary method for this is using startling statistics to make his point, as well as fear to drive home the imminent disaster should he not be elected. His use of fear tactics preys on a wide variety of people, from anyone who worries for the safety of their family, to someone who is simply worried about their survival, creating a false dilemma that Trump is the only hope for these people. Fear and anger appear to make up the majority of Trump’s persuasion methods, as he purposely makes inflammatory or controversial points.
Trump employs a wide variety of strategies to gain votes, one main tactic of which is fear. According to the article Decoding Political Ads: The Four Emotions Used to Drive Voter Decision, written by Eleftheria Parpis, “Fear, it turns out, is a pretty good motivator,” (Parpis). No kidding. After all, fear creates an irrational response, which means anything that claims to prevent that fear looks pretty good in human eyes. This is because, according to the American Psychology Association’s article The Science of Political Advertising, fear ads “heighten attentiveness and weaken people’s reliance on partisan habits, while enthusiasm ads reassure you, and reaffirm the choice you’ve already made,” (Sadie Dingfelder). So this means, with a mixture of negative and positive ads, Trump can effectively sway unsure voters through fear and keep loyal voters through positive ads. After all, like Eleftheria Parpis wrote, “who votes based on reason?” Bringing up fear ads, however, then leads to the realm of positive versus negative ads. While it seems like negative ads would be ineffective, they actually “create more thoughtful voters than positive ones,” (Dingfelder) and “not only contain more information than positive ads, they also are more memorable and useful,” according to Why Are Negative Ads Positive For Voters?, an article by Gregg R. Murray. All this combined means Trump is using negative ads to elicit a negative emotion toward an individual candidate, while at the same time creating a voter that feels positively toward Trump, but is also more thoughtful regarding certain issues. Trump then reinforces the beliefs of his current supporters through positive ads that are also designed to show Trump in a more constructive light. After all, voters swayed by emotion are more likely to vote for that candidate because “We feel before we think, which means it’s actually not even possible to have a pure rational thought. People vote more on emotions than they do on the issues…Facts don’t necessarily change minds,” (Parpis). However, the facts presented in the ads should be taken with a grain of salt. Political ads, because they are considered freedom of speech and thereby protected by the First Amendment, are not always wholly truthful. According to Rebecca Tushnet, quoted in the article Truthiness in Advertising: Why Trump Gets to Lie But You Don’t, “‘In other words, whatever the truth, we proceed as if citizens are highly discerning about what they believe, politically,’” (I-Hsien Sherwood). In essence, though the ads themselves fuel people’s’ emotional response as well as influence our voting, what is portrayed as fact is more often than not untrue, and only believed as accurate due to the emotional response produced. After all, ads themselves are made to manipulate viewers; but, should viewers be wise enough to read between the lines, they will understand that the “facts” are not always true, regardless of the emotional response produced.
What does all of this have to say about Trump’s advertisement methods on Twitter? Well, here it is in a nutshell: Voting is based almost entirely on emotion, which, more specifically, means that Trump is using fear and other negative emotions to create an ad that is more memorable, while also leaving voters feeling more informed and reassured in their choices. Voters should also be aware of Trump’s primary focus of these ads, which is to promote a general dislike of opponent Hillary Clinton, publicize his events and beliefs, further develop his image, and finally, simply get people to vote for him. Essentially, voters should always try to be aware of the emotional influence ads use and merely use their best judgment, remembering that, when all is said, and all is done, political advertising is one big plea for votes.