US Election – memes a win for Trump?

Coming into the final days, our tracking of the memes around the election on Twitter show that in volume terms Clinton related memes have caught up with Trump related memes since we last wrote (see here)

Remember, memes are a proxy for mindspace (as reported on social media, anyway) that various topics are occupying in people’s thoughts. We are not looking at what the mainstream media are pumping out, but what people are talking about. There are all sorts of allegations of Trumpbots, and the US mainstream media being “rigged” against Trump, but we are tracking social media output here at vast scale. We did turn the spamkiller algorithms off to see what the raw output looked like, it will be one of the things to look at afterwards to see what their effect was.

Now to be honest we don’t know what all this means in terms of election outcome, we set up this project to see how to calibrate a meme tracking system to the on-the-ground results in a US political election. What we can say is that, since we last wrote, the volume and reach of Clinton related memes have caught up with Trump related memes overall, so he no longer has quite the dominance in social media memeshare. But this is not necessarily a good thing for Clinton, a not insignificant rise has been in the memes around topics like “wikileaks” and “Benghazi” (see smaller orange dot in centre) and this is not all complimentary to her. Rather interestingly the Bernie Sanders “feelthebern” movement is still trundling along at scale (orange dot on top right), again this is not necessarily good news for Clinton. Trump’s women-groping problems have not really lasted as an item, in essence there was a lot of noise among a relatively small number of people for a limited time. The current fastest rising complimentary Trump mean has been on immigration.

We also saw no real impact from the debates in terms of sentiment shift, just more traffic. Again, how one interprets this is uncertain but our hypothesis is that the vast majority of people talking on social media knew who they supported before and just rallied to their candidate, and the undecideds who talked online are a small % so didn’t really shift the dial.

What is often useful in mapping the “Zeitgeist” – the amalgamation of all the small trends and shifts – is looking at “the rate of change in the rates of change”. Trump sentiment remains roughly the same, he has followed a Wildean strategy (the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about) to dominate the memespace, so maybe it will work for Clinton too as she has caught up, but quite a bit of what is driving her rise are negative memes.

The other thing we do know from tracking the last two UK elections is that “un-politically correct” opinions are under-represented, people are shy of stating these opinions publicly but do vote for them. (To misquote Phil Ochs, liberals are 10% to the left of centre in public and 10% to the right of centre in the voting booth). Trump may have let more people feel they can say what they really think, but we’d suspect there is still a residual “shy Trump” voting bloc. Also, demographically many of the people who are natural Trump supporters are less likely to be on social media. Now whether these will get out and vote is another matter, but it was these people coming out to vote (and failure to correct for “shy brexiteers”) that caused the upset in the UK’s Brexit vote.

(Update – signs are that in Nevada the Clinton machine is getting the early vote out and the Trumpites are staying at home)

As mentioned in our first article, Brexit differs from the US election in that it was an overall referendum, i.e. every vote counted equally wheraes in the US election it depends very much where a vote is cast. A vote for Trump or Clinton above those needed to secure victory in any one particular ward is essentially a wasted vote, it doesn’t count towards the outcome.

But if we may speculate on one possible interpretation of the meme data – Trump has dominated the memespace from the beginning, and is probably more represented in the non-online population. So it may be that he will have more people actually voting for him, but they may be in the “wrong” places. So there may be a Clinton win, but with more actual votes for Trump.

Anyway, we shall know in 3 days and then we will be able to have a good look at our data nd how it mapped to real outcomes