While brand-related controversies dominated the online conversation in April, a series of inflammatory statements by president Trump fueled a renewed rise in online political chatter.
Typically there is always a significant baseline of conversation surrounding Trump but, in May, two major controversies drove a 58% rise above the standard average. However, the profile of the audience that drove these online conversations was noteworthy as it diverged from the audience of millennials that we typically see propelling online debates around major controversies.
Controversy ignites: Trump fires Comey
Considering how frequently people take to social media to express their opinions about president Trump, a 58% increase in conversation is a massive shift. This first major controversy and subsequent conversation volume spike came on 9 May when Trump fired the head of the FBI James Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton probe.
As a result, both Trump and Comey were immediately trending, generating the most talked about moment of May 2017. However, the audience driving this huge political trend was vastly different from what we’ve seen in the past. For example, last month when Pepsi released its controversial activism ad, the driving force behind the online conversation was millennials. Similarly, with last month’s United Airlines incident, millennials ensured that the injustice could not go ignored.
It should come as no surprise that millennials also drove the majority of political conversations throughout the election. What is surprising, however, is that adults 45-54 are driving the majority of Comey-Trump related conversations with little chatter coming from the normally vocal 18-24 year olds.
Controversy continues: NYT reports Trump’s intelligence briefing to Russia
On 15 May, the New York Times reported that Trump released highly classified intelligence to Russia. This revelation produced only 7% less conversation than Trump firing Comey, leaving these two buzzworthy moments as two of the most talked about and most controversial trends in May.
Similar to the James Comey trend, the audience discussing the New York Times-Trump trend was predominantly ages 45-55, with a noticeable absence of millennials.
The emergence of political enthusiasts
The Comey-Trump and NYT-Trump audiences looked very similar to the typical audience interested in politics, with 35-65+ driving the majority of conversations. While we can’t speak definitively on the political repercussions of Trump’s actions, the shift from millennials driving conversations to political enthusiasts driving Trump related conversations is significant.
Millennials jump from controversy to controversy, as we saw last month with United and Pepsi, however, this older politically driven audience will most likely not forget Trump firing Comey or leaking intelligence to Russia. In fact, the Comey-Trump controversy generated 103% more conversation than the Pepsi controversy and 120% more conversation than the United Airlines one. This conversation comparison highlights how detrimental this past month could be for the success of Trump’s presidency.
We are already seeing the possible ramifications from this month’s controversies as sentiment for both Trump and Comey pushing negative on 9 May, with people discussing Trump and Comey in a negative manner 63% and 56% of the time, respectively.
It’s unsurprising that both Comey and Trump are mostly talked about in a negative light as both are controversial public figures. However, the 12% negativity difference tells a story in itself; Trump’s public perception, especially among 45-55 year olds, a demographic he notably won, may have been hurt more than Comey’s in this clash.
Because these trends mobilized an older and more politically engaged audience, this month could be a turning point for the Trump presidency. The emergence of political enthusiasts as the key drivers of online discussion surrounding Trump-related controversies may not be a good sign for the president. The question then becomes: how long will this audience keep May’s controversies in the forefront of their minds and will this impact voter perception heading into the upcoming midterm elections?
Top five trends that went viral
While Trump, Comey, and the NYT dominated headlines in May, we found five additional headlines that also generated significant buzz this month. Here’s a list of trends you might have missed that went viral this month, including some unpredictable appearances by Andrew Jackson and Bow Wow.
Amit Avner is chief executive and founder of Taykey