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Trump on Twitter and America's Image Abroad

Sat, August 31, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Hilton, Columbia 11

Abstract

President Trump’s tweets over the course of his first two years in office have been the subject of considerable attention in the U.S. news media, on late night talk shows, and on Twitter itself. Students and scholars have also poured over President Trump’s tweets, as many paper titles from major conferences over the past two years, too many to mention in this abstract, suggest. Yet less attention has been paid by scholars to President Trump’s use of Twitter to address foreign countries, which has become somewhat routine for him. U.S. public diplomacy has taken on a whole new level of meaning with President Trump’s disruptive tweets on foreign countries and international affairs, and many examples of the chaos that can ensue have been reported (Ghitis 2019).

As the President’s disruptive tweets and tactics in diplomatic relations and foreign policy kicked off his first months in office, we learned from Gallup’s (2018) global poll published in early January last year about a sharp decline in the image of American leadership in the world. The last poll was fielded in 2016 when President Obama was at the end of his tenure, and the 18 percentage point drop placed the U.S. President Trump slightly above Russia’s President Putin in terms of global public opinion. This study aims to shed light on the depth of the decline in America’s leadership and image in the world, with analysis of President Trump’s foreign tweets and of coverage in leading news media in a number of countries.

We utilize two sources of data. One source of data is our content analysis of the entirety of President Trump’s “foreign” tweets over the course of the fall campaign and his first two years in office. By our current count, there are more than 700. We assess the visibility of foreign countries, the topic and tone of the tweets, and their appeal in terms of retweets and likes, and compare the time of these with a second source of data: a comparative content analysis of hundreds of news items about President Trump in leading news media in different countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

This paper is part of the larger ongoing project entitled America’s Image in the Trump Era. We have been coding leading foreign language news media from Sept. 1, 2016, the fall U.S. presidential election campaign and its immediate aftermath, and from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018. We have coded tone, topic and share of voice among other variables to discuss the spillover effects of the image of President Trump on the image of the U.S.

As part of that study, from an analysis of nearly 500 campaign stories in Chinese-language Global Times, Spanish-language Reforma, and the Times of India, with high Kappa reliability coefficients within and between language-teams, we find some evidence of spillover effects from negative valence or tone toward the U.S. candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and their respective political parties, on tone toward the U.S., the 2016 campaign, and American democracy.

The coding continues on President Trump in office, and we will provide the latest assessment of leading foreign media on his first two years, based on systematic content analysis, in this study. What previous research on media in both democratic and non-democratic contexts does not challenge, and there are too many studies to cite here in this abstract, is the assumption that the reporting of foreign affairs itself is both a reflection of, and a source of, influence on elite perspectives as well as potentially on mass public opinion. President Trump’s tweets are a new intervening variable that we will explore further in this study.



Gallup. 2018. Rating World Leaders 2018. Downloaded at http://news.gallup.com/home.asp

Ghitis, Frida. 2019. This is what happens when Trump makes foreign policy by Tweet. 14 January.
https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/01/14/donald-trump-foreign-policy-twitter-223975

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