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What’s Missing in Trump’s Tweets

An analysis reveals the unique challenges faced by female candidates.

By Tom Jacobs


Donald Trump. (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

As recently as Monday night’s debate, Donald Trump was accusing Hillary Clinton of insufficient “stamina.” His implication was clear enough: She’s not tough enough to be president.

A new analysis of the two candidates’ tweets from earlier in the campaign suggest Clinton and her staff have long been aware of this line of attack, and have been using social media in their attempt to rebut it.

The study, by Lehigh University’s Jayeon Lee and Young-shin Lim of the University of Amsterdam, provides some interesting insight into the fine line Clinton is walking in her attempt to become the first female president. Their research finds that, in her Twitter messages, Clinton projects masculine traits (such as strength and determination), even as she emphasizes traditionally feminine issues (such as health, education, and the environment).

“It is notable that even Hillary Clinton, who has been in a political leadership position for 15 years,” feels the need to “repeatedly emphasize her strength via tweets,” the researchers write in the journal Public Relations Review. “Even with a record number of women in the U.S. Congress, female politicians may still have to strive … to earn the level of credit assumed for male politicians.”

In her Twitter messages, Clinton projects masculine traits, even as she emphasizes traditionally feminine issues.

Lee and Lim looked at 228 tweets by Clinton and 295 by Trump, all of which were posted between two six-day stretches in September and October of 2015. They also analyzed two key pages from the respective candidates’ websites: their respective biographies, and their rundowns of key issues.

Self-described traits were coded as either feminine (caring, warm, empathetic) or masculine (forceful, confident), and policy issues were divided into feminine (family, welfare, poverty) or masculine (business, taxes, terrorism).

They found that, in Clinton’s bio, 11 of the 14 “trait words” were of a traditionally masculine nature, including “tough,” “fighting,” and “champion.” Trump, in contrast, “did not describe his traits at all,” apparently assuming his masculinity would be taken for granted.

“Clinton also emphasized her personality traits, particularly her masculinity, on Twitter,” the researchers write. “Among the 91 gendered trait words (she used on that site), “59 were masculine, while 32 were feminine.”

But while Clinton used word choices to emphasize her toughness, the issues she mentions were overwhelmingly ones traditionally associated with women. Altogether, the researchers report, “Clinton mentioned feminine issues 16 times more than Trump did on the web, and 8.47 times more on Twitter.”

There were other interesting differences: Clinton was more likely to use multimedia, where Trump’s tweets tended to be text-only. And Trump was far more likely to retweet messages from others, a habit that has, at times, gotten him into some trouble.

But really, the key finding centers on Clinton’s perceived need to project strength. “As a white male candidate from the Republican party,” Lee and Lim write, “Trump does not seem to be as concerned about giving and managing a masculine impression as Clinton.”

Nor does he have to. Perhaps in an alternate universe — one in which we expect our leaders to embody traits of caring and compassion — Trump would feel the need to constantly reinforce his feminine virtues.