The much polarised rhetoric around the US Election 2020 provides us with a unique opportunity to study how language is used by specific subpopulations talking about specific topics. In this example, we are most interested in getting insights on how some key words are related to each other inside the minds of Trump’s and Biden’s supporters.
We believe that we can better grasp a community’s picture of the word by understanding their dialect. Languages are the framework of our thinking so if we get to understand how words are associated inside a person’s mind, we will be able to understand how their ideas came to be.
We gathered 180,000 tweets posted by Trump’s and Biden’s hard core supporters in the period May-October 2020 and analysed them by training a word2vec deep learning model. This allowed us to encode the meaning of the words used by Twitter users as dense high-dimensional vectors inside a semantic space. Distances between those vectors encoded the semantic distances between their associated words.
We used our model to retrieve the 20 closest neighbours to the words Trump and Biden, so as to get an understanding of how each presidential candidate is perceived by his opponent’s supporters. The results from the perceptual mapping are presented on the graph below. The width of the connections is indicative of the strength of the perceptions.
US Presidential Candidates: Perceptual Mapping
- Biden has been perceived as ‘communist’, ’marxist”, and ‘socialist’, due to the more extreme progressive policies of his party, which he has managed to push back against in the course of his campaign.
- The dominant perceptions of Trump are related to ‘lying’, ‘disinformation’, ‘deaths’, and ‘racism.’
- One result of Biden’s focus on consensus “kitchen-table” topics in his campaign has been that he is disliked less even among core Trump supporters. Less than one-third of Trump voters say they would be angry if Biden were to win the election.
- The battle between Trump and Biden is a battle between two archetypes, or two sets of values – Outlaw/ Ruler vs Caregiver/Everyman, to use the Jungian typologies presented below.
- In times that favour extreme personalities and politics, Biden’s Caregver/Everyman might seem anachronistic. Even his rhetorical appeals to heal the political divisions —”there will be no blue states and red states with me”— seem in stark contrast with political reality.
- Trump’s campaign strategy seems unchanged from the 2016 elections. However, in the context of a global pandemic inflicting immeasurable harm on American people, the ordered populism underlying his Outlaw/Ruler archetype may well have lost its appeal.
Trump and Biden: Archetypes