scorecardI used AI to analyze tweets written by Trump, Biden, and Sanders for anger, negativity, and passive aggression - here's what I found
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I used AI to analyze tweets written by Trump, Biden, and Sanders for anger, negativity, and passive aggression - here's what I found

May Habib   

I used AI to analyze tweets written by Trump, Biden, and Sanders for anger, negativity, and passive aggression - here's what I found
Careers6 min read
May Habib

May Habib

May Habib.

  • May Habib is the CEO of content AI platform Qordoba. She analyzed the language in dozens of tweets by President Donald Trump, US Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Vice President Joe Biden.
  • Habib examined the politicians' tweets for levels of anger, negativity, passive-aggression, personal attacks, and hierarchy.
  • President Trump's tweets were most likely to display anger, while Sanders' tweets were the most passive-aggressive.
  • It's unclear how the politicians' divergent content strategies on social media may affect voter attitudes overall.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

When it comes to politics, words matter, and Twitter is an increasingly popular platform for promoting political messaging. Studying the 2020 presidential candidates' tweets could show us their strategic messaging approaches. President Trump, in particular, has created a special bond with his supporters because of his specific communication style, seen as speaking truth to power and speaking like members of his base.

My company, Qordoba, uses machine learning to analyze language. We pulled hundreds of tweets sent by President Donald Trump, US Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Vice President Joe Biden and evaluated them for words associated with anger, negativity, and passive-aggression.

We also looked into hierarchical language, or "us versus them" verbiage, because Trump is widely believed to use these speech mechanisms to unite his base. We analyzed both personal attacks and hierarchical language because we wanted to see whether Biden or Sanders were trying to motivate their own bases similarly after seeing Trump's approach.

In total, we analyzed 770 tweets by Biden, 616 tweets by Sanders, and 436 tweets by Trump from December 6 to March 10. Here's what we found out from this analysis.

1. Trump uses anger and personal attacks the most of the three

Trump is most likely to use language that's associated with anger or that contains personal attacks on people or institutions. Trump's tweets read angry about 51% of the time, while Biden was angry 33% of the time and Sanders about 30%. Trump's most commonly used terms have been "mini Mike," "Trump," "Bernie," "border," and "fake news."

When read at the sentence level, anger appears in each candidate's tweets. For Trump, common angry terms include "witch hunt," "to embarrass," "illegally spied," and "impeachment hoax."

Biden's anger is revealed in terms like "hate-filled attack," "bigotry," "violence," and "moral failure."

Sanders' angry tweets includes words like "corruption," "greed," "has ignored," and "continuing to lie."

Trump Word Cloud


President Donald Trump's word cloud.

Of the candidates, Trump's messaging is the most focused on attacking his rivals. At this stage in the campaign, he's more focused on calling out Sanders - "It is happening again to Crazy Bernie, just like last time, only far more obvious. They are taking the Democrat Nomination away from him, and there's very little he can do. A Rigged System!" he tweeted Feb. 14 - than he is attacking Biden: "I will protect your Social Security and Medicare, just as I have for the past 3 years. Sleepy Joe Biden will destroy both in very short order, and he won't even know he's doing it!" he wrote March 6.

But the reasons behind this seem complex: Even as Trump attempts to undermine Sanders' mental stability with the "Crazy Bernie" moniker, he promotes a common conspiracy theory around Sanders' failure to gain the Democratic nomination in 2016.

It might be an effort to prop up the candidate he feels is easiest to beat. When Trump attacks Biden, it's simply an attack - and he's redoubled his efforts against the former vice president since Biden's Super Tuesday success.

At the same time, Biden frequently mentions Trump in his messages: His top five most-used words are "Trump/Donald Trump," "president," "country," "nation," and "time." Biden focuses on directly attacking Trump, often tweeting about the nation, the presidency, and Trump himself, much more than Sanders does.

Meanwhile, Sanders' messaging is goal-based rather than opponent-based. His tweets focus on his platform, bringing people together, and enacting change.

2. But Trump also balances negativity with positive talk

Despite Trump's tendencies to use angry language and personal attacks, he is the least likely to register a negative tone because he also talks about himself and his perceived successes a lot.

His most commonly used word is "thank" because he doles out praises to his administration and political allies. Some recent shout-outs include, "BEST USA ECONOMY IN HISTORY!" and "Great job being done by the @VP and the CoronaVirus task force. Thank you!"

Trump spends a large proportion of his Twitter time framing his administration's work positively and thanking supporters. His tweets read negatively a little more than 7% of the time, balanced out by more positive terms such as "strong," "win," "loves," and "wow."

By contrast, Biden's Twitter content read as negative about 13% of the time; Sanders was negative in about 12% of his content. Examples of commonly used words connoting negativity include "end," "defeat," and "damage."

3. Biden speaks on hierarchies the most, but it's pretty even across the board

Biden is most likely (by a slight margin) to bring up the differences between groups in our society, such as economic and racial inequalities. He touched on those issues about 28% of the time, which is only slightly higher than Sanders' 27%.

For example, "99.9% - that's the percentage of African-American voters who have not yet had a chance to vote in this nomination process. You cannot and should not win the Democratic nomination for President without the support of black and brown voters," Biden tweeted on Feb. 11.

biden word cloud


Joe Biden's word cloud.

Meanwhile, Sanders tweeted March 4: "Working people aren't struggling to afford health care, prescription drugs, and higher education because of bad luck. Our government and our economy are rigged in favor of the wealthy. We need an economy that works for working people, not just the 1% and huge corporations."

The Democratic candidates commonly use hierarchy to illustrate that they're in touch with the work yet to be done.

Interestingly, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has since left the presidential race, was the most likely to deploy hierarchy in her messaging; Warren addressed the disparities among societal groups about 31% of the time. She also tweeted messages that read more negatively than those of Trump, Sanders, and Biden, according to our analysis. However, she was also the least likely to use an angry tone or personal attack in her comments.

4. Sanders is the most passive-aggressive

Of the three candidates, Sanders is the least likely to attack someone head-on, but that doesn't mean he stays silent. His most commonly used words include "people," "Trump," "campaign," "country," and "movement." On Jan. 28, Sanders tweeted: "It's no secret that we're taking on the political establishment and the big money interests, who are now running attack ads against us in Iowa. But we have the people, and our grassroots movement will prevail."

Without calling out opponents by name, Sanders maintains an "us versus them" campaign message.

bernie word cloud


Senator Bernie Sanders' word cloud.

That said, Biden still retweets (and occasionally subtweets) Trump with commentary like: "A wall won't stop a virus. Racism won't stop a virus. Do your job."

5. All three accounts average a sixth-grade reading level

Using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level readability scoring system, we saw that all three candidates' tweets fall into a sixth-grade reading level and could be read easily by at least 80% of Americans, ensuring the candidates can reach large swaths of voters.

Readability may be more a function of the short-form medium than the candidates' actual rhetoric and messaging strategies, but Sanders' readability scored 6.4, Trump's a 6.2, and Biden's a 6 (the simplest).

Overall, Biden's and Sanders' messaging strategies seem more alike than different as they have a similar use of angry and negative tones as well as mentions of social hierarchies. They contrast with Trump's vacillations in tone between his feelings of anger and victory and his penchant for making tweets personal.

We'll learn more about which strategy succeeds in November - and we'll have a clearer Twitter blueprint for future presidential candidates.

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