We Analyzed Politicians’ Twitter Personalities. Here’s What Our Psychometricians Found

In the 2016 U.S election, both Democratic and Republican politicians utilized Twitter to spread political messages to millions of followers. Even though Twitter has proven to be an effective way of communicating, can it also be an indicator of someone’s personality? What can a politician’s Twitter personality say about their actual selves? After extensive research, we managed to create personality profiles for four politicians and their Twitter followers.

We decided to look at the personalities of three major candidates in the 2016 US presidential election: Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican Donald Trump, and Independent-Progressive Bernie Sanders. In addition, we also analyzed the Twitter account of one most influential Republicans, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Since we were also interested in the correlation between political preference and Twitter personas in the ‘normal’ population, we created personality profiles of Twitter followers of Clinton, Trump, Sanders, and Ryan.

Comparison of politicians’ Twitter accounts.

Donald Trump’s tweets suggest that he might be less curious but much more open-minded than all the other politicians we compared him with. Paul Ryan tweets show that he is the most ambitious politician out of the bunch, followed by Hillary Clinton. Interestingly, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump tweets imply that they are equally ambitious, but not as ambitious as Ryan and Clinton. However, aside from these few differences, Twitter activities of these politicians demonstrate that they are very similar in terms of their character, scoring almost identically on all assessed traits. With the exception of curiosity, their personality trait scores also visibly differ from those obtained by an average Twitter user. This analysis suggests that all four politicians possess a distinct personality profile that differentiates them from the rest of the population.

This could demonstrate that they may not be all that different in real life – after all, they are all politically driven individuals who spend most of their time in the public realm. In addition, they are all likely to be advised to give their social media profile a very specific tone, which may make their personalities appear similar. Either way, compared with the population average, all four politicians seem more orderly, assertive, and authoritarian, but also more volatile and insecure, and less friendly and sympathetic. Since they are constantly facing public scrutiny and competing with their opponents, politicians might have lower levels of stability and self-confidence. At the same time, their role necessarily requires leadership qualities: drive, conscientiousness, but also emotional detachment. To quote Frank Underwood, “the road to power is paved with hypocrisy and casualties. Never regret.”

Comparison of the politicians’ followers’ Twitter accounts.

We also looked at 8,560 profiles of randomly selected Twitter followers of the four politicians. Surprisingly, this set of analyses showed very similar patterns to those described above. First, all groups differed significantly from the average Twitter user on all assessed traits. The only exception was Paul Ryan’s followers’ levels of enthusiasm. Second, although the four groups of followers differed from one another on most assessed traits, these differences were minor. If we look at the patterns in the data, they clearly suggest that the personalities of the four groups do not differ substantially, and surely not as much as one would expect. There are several possible explanations for these results. It might be that many Twitter users following Trump, for instance, also follow his opponents, Clinton and Sanders, and his fellow party members, such as Ryan, thus obscuring any differences between the four analyzed groups. However, out of 8,560 users in the analysis, only 118 followed more than one politician. In short, the overlap was minimal.

Another possible reason as to why there was such a minimal difference between political affiliation is that people who express their political views on social media share a similar personality profile that distinguishes them from those interested in other matters, such as lifestyle, tech, or art. This may suggest that those interested in politics, regardless of their political orientation, do not differ from one another as much as we tend to believe.

Regardless if you’re a Democrat, Republican, Socialist or anarchist, chances are that you could find common ground in how young engage with social media. In our highly polarized and divisive times, perhaps there’s hope that underneath all of our political beliefs, we aren’t that different after all. Happy Tweeting!

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