Donald Trump

No, Russian Bots Didn't Cause Trump's Poll Numbers To Increase 1 Percent Per 25K Retweets

Blaming Trump's election on the magical power of Russian Twitter bots is seductive because it excuses Americans for electing an obviously unqualified candidate.

|

Here is an accurate description of a new study's conclusions: "As Donald Trump secured greater support from Republicans and as the 2016 general election neared, pro-Trump content produced by a Russian bot got more attention on Twitter."

The paper compares the popularity of Trump's candidacy to the popularity of more than 700,000 English-language tweets sent by various accounts linked to the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA). The study's authors found that every 25,000 retweets of IRA-run Twitter accounts correlated to a 1 percent uptick for Trump in presidential election polls.

Correlated being the key word there. Because if you ignore the distinction between correlation and causation, you might end up drawing a conclusion like this:

Or like this

Those are good ways to fire up the #Resistance, but both are misleading interpretations of the study, which was published today by First Monday, a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to studying internet phenomena.

The study's authors themselves point out the limitations inherent in their analysis, which was intended to test "prediction, not causality." Indeed, they stress that "it seems unlikely that 25,000 re-tweets could influence one percent of the electorate in isolation."

More to the point, they caution that "any correlation established by an observational study could be spurious." Despite a strong correlation between Trump's popularity and increased Twitter-based interest in the Russian bot accounts, "There could still be a third variable driving the relationship between IRA Twitter success and U.S. election opinion polls," they write. "We controlled for one of these—the success of Donald Trump's personal Twitter account—but there are others that are more difficult to measure; including exposure to the U.S domestic media."

It would hardly be surprising to learn that more Americans became more engaged in politics as the 2016 election drew nearer, or that there would be a larger audience for pro-Trump content on Twitter as the primaries concluded and inter-GOP opposition to Trump's candidacy subsided. Indeed, the study finds that one major spike in both Trump's popularity and the attention received by IRA-run Twitter accounts was associated with the 2016 Republican National Convention. Historically, pretty much all presidential candidates have seen an increase in support after being officially nominated.

Now, it's certainly possible that Russian tweets changed some Americans' minds about who to support in 2016—though there's no reason to think those tweets were any more potent than content created by regular Americans or the campaigns themselves.

Blaming Trump's election on the magical power of Russian Twitter bots is seductive because it gets Americans off the hook for elevating an obviously unqualified candidate to the most powerful office in the world. If understanding Trump's victory was as simple as adding up the number of retweets on pro-Trump Twitter accounts, we'd be spared the more difficult task of dealing with the political and cultural forces—domestic ones—that put him in the White House.

Advertisement

NEXT: Deceptive Data Make Georgia's Film Tax Credit Program Look Less Wasteful

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Please to be voting for Donald Trump, he is the bomb. Ha ha, just kidding about the bomb part, is great lover of peace. Grabs a peace whenever he can, ha ha.

    1. Launch all zig…

    2. You should have been a Russian Bot.

      1. …because it excuses Americans for electing an obviously unqualified candidate.

        But what can possibly excuse Reason readers from perusing pieces penned by the obviously unqualified “writer”, Eric Boehm??

        I didn’t vote for Trump. But “qualified” or not, he’s done a better job than any other president in the past 3 decades, and if he eclipses Ronald Reagan, Trump will be the best president in over 200 years.

  2. Blaming Trump’s election on the magical power of Russian Twitter bots is seductive because it excuses Americans for electing an obviously unqualified candidate.

    Good to see Reason admitting that after a lifetime as a lawyer and a politician, HRC is/was factually inferior to an obviously unqualified candidate.

    1. Fun fact–Russian bots have been responsible for the election of most US Presidents going back to John Quincy Adams.

    2. IT WAS HER TURN!

      1. Sure as fuck wasn’t his turn.

        1. Turns out, it was.

          1. And in 2020, it might be his turn again.

            1. We may fervently hope so. God protect us from any of the currently admitted Democrat candidates.

          2. And America is lucky it was.

          1. I don’t respect you at all, and I suspect most everyone else here and in your life feel similarly, but I am at a loss as to why you think expressing undying affection for Donald fucking Trump is supposed to change that perception in a positive way on what is ostensibly a libertarian board.

      2. Democrat voter: “It’s her turn, so why do I need to bother to go to the voting booth? It’s her turn, so she will win. Why do we have this stupid election anyway? Where is my welfare check?”

    3. “obviously unqualified candidate”

      Demonstrating once again that Reason is against “government of the people”, and for government of the permanent ruling class.

      Trump had executive experience running a multi billion worldwide corporation. That’s more relevant experience to be President than all but a tiny sliver of the population.

      Meanwhile, Obama was a partial term Senator who had never run anything in his life, never even done anything in his brief time as a US Senator, and was Mr. Present in the Illinois legislature.

      Biden got most of Obama’s qualifications:
      “you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,”

      But he left out the “groomed by the ruling class for power all his adult life”.

  3. Trump isn’t any worse then the last few Presidents. . As far as not being qualified . I’d put Hillary and all the dems running now in he same class as Trump.

    1. Amen. When using the term “unqualified” for one candidate (Trump) an impartial writer might want to mention how “criminal” the other candidate (Clinton) was. What a bunch of B. S.

      1. Clinton was the *perfectly* qualified candidate for the ruling class.

        Thoroughly corrupt, got caught, and got away with it. That’s the leadership the ruling class is looking for. Criminal, and can beat the rap.

        Pisses down the backs of the peasants, and asks them how they like the rain.

    2. All the DemonCRAPS in America haven’t done as much good for this Country as Trump.

      Hitlery isn’t fit to suck Trump’s… toes.

  4. “‘elevating an obviously unqualified candidate “”

    Trump met all the qualification the Constitution required.

    1. One might think that phrase was deliberately inserted by the obviously unqualified editors (along with their usual trollish headlines) merely to generate clicks…

      1. “One might think that phrase was deliberately inserted by the obviously unqualified editors (along with their usual trollish headlines) merely to generate clicks…”

        Or an outright admission that TDS is common among the editors.

    2. Indeed. There are plenty of criticisms you can level at Trump, but “unqualified”? Compared to, say, Obama?

      1. I have it on good authority, from a two term Vice President of the US, that Obama was perfectly qualified:
        “you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,”

        1. …and has a spine like a ramrod!

  5. This is obviously ridiculous. My Scientific Research showed that every postseason win by the Cubs garnered Trump an additional 28 Electoral College votes

    1. I believe the true reason was bacon sales. Consuming more salty pork lead to higher poll numbers.

  6. It’s really not hard to understand. People seek out additional content after learning about something and nobody who voted for Trump was on the fence and otherwise convinced by random Twitter accounts nobody heard of. It wasn’t even a subject of conversation and even if someone did read information, the issue should not be the source, but the information itself. If Russia helped expose the FISA plot, are you really not going to pay attention just because they’re a hostile agitator? Sure, I don’t trust any info immediately coming out of Russia or any non-allied State known for propaganda, but this is getting absurd.

    1. The British are so much more honest…

      1. And the Reason editors, for that matter.

    2. Exactly. Let’s remember these bots didn’t drove people to trump. They drove them away from Hillary. Trump voters weren’t swayed by this.

      Dopey democrats who are too stupid to read news anywhere besides facebook and twitter are really at fault. But we already know most are dumbasses.

      1. I regularly see news people interview Trump bumpkins and they always mention Benghazi or some other horseshit.

        Perhaps we can meet in the middle and agree that they’re lying to cover their own racist and sexism.

        1. True fact: The American ambassador is actually still alive, the Republicans are holding him prisoner so he won’t be able to prove what an awesome Secretary of State Hillary was.

        2. We still haven’t forgotten Benghazi because we never received a satisfactory answer. The video was bullshit, Americans died, and we still don’t know why the embassy was targeted and why such poor decisions regarding defense of the facility were consistently made over a several year period prior to the attack.

          1. Terrorists have killed lots of Americans.

            When it happened under Bush times 1,000, somehow he got a bump in the polls for it.

        3. You calling someone else racist = rich.

        4. Do you think the death of the Saudi at a non-US embassy is more important to investigate than the death of more than one US citizen at a US embassy?

          1. How many more fucking times do you want it investigated?

            1. How’s about until the Hag stops screeching “what difference, at this point, does it make?” and actually answers the questions put to her.

              Oh, and until all those related email messages on her FOIA-avoiding, multiply-hacked, wiped (“what, with a cloth?”) server get recovered.

              That many fucking times.

              1. By the way, you ignorant mouthbreathing partisan hack, I don’t recall you complaining about your party drawing out the Russian collusion “investigation” after the special prosecutor’s report was released. Did I miss that, or are you just in full hypocrite mode there?

                1. Still not as much investigating or money spent as on Benghazi, which turned up nothing but a minor terrorist attack in another country.

                  I know that the (R) after Donald Trump’s name makes FOX News and its zombielike hordes to ignore any and all controversies related to said orange fucktard, but unlike Benghazi, the Russia thing is actually a real big fucking deal. Not that you care.

                  1. I’m so sorry, Tony. The only Russian things are Uranium One and Christopher Steele/Fusion GPS/Perkins Coie. Have a good cry.

        5. “I regularly see news people interview Trump bumpkins”

          Lookup “selection bias”.

          1. Would that be like when people think 3 people dead by terrorists in Libya is Obama’s fault but 3,000 people dead in New York by terrorists is an indisputable boon to Bush’s reelection?

            Try meth. It’s less damaging to the brain than FOX News.

    3. Lol. Arguing that strange bedfellows are OK as long as you get to the truth while perpetuating retarded conspiracy theories you think are the truth under discussion.

      You are the problem.

        1. Faggot? You are truly losing control of your faculties.

      1. Nihilism is a copout and a poor one at that. Where did I perpetuate a conspiracy theory? I used FISA as an example because even if there was no conspiracy, there was still morally questionable behavior in that alphabet soup agencies, for whatever reason, were investigating a private citizen during a presidential campaign based on Russian propaganda.

      2. “Arguing that strange bedfellows are OK as long as you get to the truth while perpetuating retarded conspiracy theories you think are the truth”

        But…but…RUSSIA! PUTIN!!!!!

  7. Have to say I’m dissapointed to see so little in Reason about Trump crossing the border to meet with little Kim. it was clearly a win for Trump as much as Reagan meeting with Gorbocheve and Reason doesn’t know what to say about it or hasn’t been told by the correct people what to say about it

    1. Orange man bad. And unqualified. That’s what to say about it.

    2. Funny, someone on NPR last night was saying how much of a diplomatic coup this was for Kim.

      Whatever else I think about Trump, I’ll give him credit for being willing to talk to just about any foreign leader who’s willing to meet with him face to face. And with very few preconditions. Mind you, he has done his share of waving America’s big dick superior military power around but he has been much more reluctant than the last five presidents to use it.

      Also, Trump has done more to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula than the last five presidents combined. Credit where credit is due.

      1. HTML fail: strikeout was supposed to end before “superior military power…”

        That’s probably obvious to anyone who actually read my post but Just incase, I thought I’d point it out.

  8. Drumpf’s “victory” was largely due to the following factors:

    Russia hacked the election.
    The Comey letter.
    The Electoral College.
    Anti-Clinton media bias.

    You might hear some people claim Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate. Don’t believe them. Not only was Clinton the most qualified Presidential candidate ever, she’s also an extraordinarily talented politician.

    #StillWithHer

    1. But couldn’t beat Obama in the 2008 primaries.

      1. Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime talent who transcended politics. One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I wasn’t quite old enough to vote for his reelection.

        Clinton should feel no shame about losing the 2008 nomination to him.

        1. Still on top of your game!

        2. “Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime talent who transcended politics.”

          I have it on good authority, a two term Vice President of the US, that Obama was a first:
          “you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,”

    2. You forgot misogyny.
      The white supremacist cishetero Partriarchy did it.

      #VoteVagina

      1. OBL is my favorite writer at Reason. They should give him a regular column.

    3. Hillary Clinton is one of the most irritating humans to ever seek the Presidency of the United States. “Qualified” or not, she’s a crook, a liar, a cheater, and she’s been on every side of every issue over the course of her political career. Thus, by comparison, Trump is quite “qualified.”

  9. Jeez, beg the question much?

  10. >>>electing an obviously unqualified candidate

    this from December ’16 or are you just coming to terms w/OBL?

    1. Setting up for next year’s Southern California Journalism Awards.

      1. lol. next year *five* awards, bitches.

  11. I believe we’ve just been trolled.

  12. Trump is/was fully qualified.
    Over 35.
    American born.
    End of qualifications.

    1. and he is the best president since Reagan!

      1. Best president since Bush the Elder. Or did you forget that Bush is dead now, too? Dead presidents are the best presidents.

        Boehm seems to forget that some of us are libertarians and prefer an incompetent, ineffective, and inefficient government run by clowns and criminals and imbeciles to one where the psychopaths in charge are competent, effective and efficient. Stalin and Hitler and Mao may have had a lot of faults, but they sure as hell were qualified to run the government – they got things done, by God! Is this really the argument you want to be making?

        1. Arguably Hitler wasn’t very effective. He certainly was a terrible war time leader, constantly interfering with his Generals, often making stupid strategic systems. His paranoia created an overly complicated command structure that left no one sure who was really in charge in France in June of 1944. His insistence on holding Stalingrad, a city with little strategic value, cost him an entire army. His decision to back Italy in Greece and North Africa cost vital resources that could have been used in Russia (and delayed the invasion of the Soviet Union by months). His confidence in Goehring cost him the opportunity to destroy the BEF at Dunkirk. His need to seek vengeance in the Battle of Britain instead of continuing to focus on the RAF lost him the chance to invade England and knock her out of the war (some experts believe that the RAF was just weeks away from breaking completely when he ordered the Luftwaffe to begin terror attacks). Hitler launched the war 5 years earlier than he had intended to, because his policies were leading to a growing economic crisis. Basically, all Germany couldn’t afford to build a military and give out all the freebies it was to it’s citizens.

  13. Ok, leaving aside the question of whether or not Trump was an “obviously unqualified candidate”, who was the “obviously qualified candidate” that he was elected instead of?

    1. who was the “obviously qualified candidate” that he was elected instead of?

      Two-time governor and never-bankrupt businessman Gary Johnson, of course.

      1. Two-time governor and never-bankrupt businessman Gary Johnson, of course.

        ^ This.

        1. Good point. Maybe the better question is, “What conspiracy causes Americans to ignore candidates that offer actual serious candidates and vote for these clownish Demopublicans and Republicrats?

          1. NBC turning off mics and making baseless claims about what the Russians want, of course.

      2. If only we had Gary Johnson in the White House to stick out his tongue at Kim, everything would be great.

  14. Blaming Trump’s election on the magical power of Russian Twitter bots is seductive because it excuses Americans for electing an obviously unqualified candidate.

    No, it shifts blame away from the Democrats and their media handlers for their comical and horrible insistence on running Hillary as a candidate.

    1. You make a good point.

    2. Especially after they stole the election from a guy that most certainly would have wiped the floor with Trump. Bernie would have maintained the blue wall in the Midwest. We dodged a bullet when the democrats subverted their voters and nominated Hillary by fiat.

  15. Blaming Trump’s election on the magical power of Russian Twitter bots is seductive because it excuses Americans for electing an obviously unqualified candidate.

    1. Please explain Trump’s lack of qualifications. Especially in light of the qualifications of his peers.

    2. If Trump is unqualified to be President – which of the 2016 Republican candidates were qualified by your standards? Which of the Democrats? Which of the 2020 Democratic candidates are qualified?

    I mean, its a good article. You make a good point and back it up with evidence – correlation is not causality.

    But did you put this subhead in knowing it would rile up the commentariat and get you lot’s of comments under your article, boosting your number, you sly dog.

    Wait a minute – Boehm, you’re a ‘reporter’ not an ‘associate editor’. I didn’t think they did reporting anymore. Could this be a genuine example of Reason’s editors actually *editing*? Holy shit.

    1. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, but will never consider himself a southerner.

      That just seems a bit nasty-spirited. And no one in Arlington is a southerner – its a DC bedroom town.

  16. Yes, the baseline fault lies with idiotic Americans willing to fall for stupid memes.

    These memes still show up on these boards and all over the internet, so it did work. I don’t know what you propose to do about the social problem of stupidity.

    1. Which stupid memes would they be, Toady?

      Would that be the one about how teenagers in America can buy a machine gun on the internet or one of the other lies that the Democrats are spreading?

      Let’s whip ’em out and measure which whoppers it is that each side are trying to promote.

    2. And I was sticking pins in a Hillary Clinton voodoo doll for a whole year up to the election.

      That’s what worked, obviously.

    3. Admitting the truth, that your candidate was fucking trash and you lost to a used car salesman, is obviously still too much for you to do.

      So wallow in Russia fever dreams. Watching you flail so desperately is FANTASTIC.

    4. Where did the meme touch you?

    5. “”These memes still show up on these boards and all over the internet, so it did work.””

      Total logic fail.

    6. These memes still show up on these boards and all over the internet, so it did work.

      The literal point of this article, you ignorant mouthbreather, is that correlation != causation.

    7. “stupid memes”

      Yet the Left notoriously can’t make smarter ones. The Left can’t meme.

      1. The left have a quaint affection for facts and evidence and do not forgive all manner of lies and atrocities as long as they can achieve their one true goal of using the US federal government to force women to give birth agains their will, like the right. Game-theory-wise, it is a disadvantage not to be such ridiculous cult-like psychopaths.

  17. Someone get Marianne Williamson or Andrew Yang on the phone. A million Russian retweets and either one would be at 40%.

    1. #Marianne2020HonkHonk

  18. So, here is my dream for the 2020 election.

    But first some background. On election night in 2000 I went to sleep resigned to the fact that Al Gore was going to be the next president and that I was going to spend the next, at least, four years paying for Tipper’s Mom’s heart medicine (so that she wouldn’t have to go without a trip to Europe) and endless goody-goody actions all over the world. But hey, that’s the democratic process, right?

    So, then, I wake up the next day to find out that because a bunch of illiterate and/or senile voters in some county in Florida couldn’t figure out how to mark their ballots* Thereby causing confusing about who had voted for whom. This largely confirmed my belief that even if, “Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time**” democracy was for the most part a crock.

    So then fast forward to election night 2016. I kind of watched with bated breath every change in the vote totals until at the end of the evening I was able to say to everyone I knew, “I have good news and bad news: the bad news is that Donald Trump won the election but that bad news is countered by the unmitigated joy that Hillary Clinton Lost.

    *said ballots having been design by the County Supervisor of Elections (D).

    **This came from Winston Churchill who was for all of his heroic WWII leadership a rather nasty imperialist and racist piece of work.

    1. But to continue, my dream is that on election eve 2020 I will see a count where Donald Trump wins the majority vote but that the electoral college goes to the democrats except that because of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact all of the democrat majority states whose vote would have caused the Democratic candidate to be elected theythey are forced to give all of their EC votes to Trump.

      I will ROFLMAO.

      1. Awesome.

      2. That would be hilarious.

        Not that they’d get the joke’s on them.

        1. They’re a humorless lot. Stupid people are that way.

  19. “…is seductive because it gets Americans off the hook for elevating an obviously unqualified candidate to the most powerful office in the world.”

    And yet America forges ahead in spite of this claim.

    Barry and Hilary were ‘qualified’ – whatever that means anyway – and look at what they left behind.

  20. “”We controlled for one of these—the success of Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account—but there are others that are more difficult to measure; including exposure to the U.S domestic media.”

    Like US voters saw Hillary on CNN , MSNBC , etc and said to themselves anyone else is better? Think that might have happened?

  21. Isn’t it true that those who voted for Trump were less sophisticated and computer literate and therefore less likely to use twitter? Besides , where did Hillary pile up the most votes: California, New York, Illinois – all places w/ people who use computers more and especially twitter.

    1. ‘Computer literate’ and ‘uses twitter’ generally don’t go hand-in-hand.

      The vast majority of people – including very smart and accomplished people – are computer *illiterate*. They don’t know how the work, only how to do some stuff on a few apps.

      1. If they were really computer literate, they wouldn’t call it a phone.

    2. Imagine being a person that associates twitter with the word “sophisticated”.

  22. It certainly begs the question, if the Russians are so good at election engineering why did they hire Podesta and Manafort to come over to the Ukraine to get their puppet elected?

    And why aren’t all the campaigns hiring Russian election consultants to learn their secrets?

  23. If you have “Trump Derangement Syndrome” you will believe anything but Trump was properly elected. Nothing will ever change that.

    1. Define properly elected.

      Does “proper” permit foreign interference with the aid and comfort of the winner? Does “proper” permit the anti-democratic and totally dysfunctional Electoral College that has denied the American people their choice of president twice in our lifetime to disastrous effect?

      1. Does “proper” permit a candidate to hire a British spy to compile derogatory information from Russia on her opponent? And use it to initiate government-agency spying on her opponent’s campaign? Does the Constitution-specified Electoral College really seem improper to you? And how, exactly, is that Electoral College dysfunctional?

  24. We can all agree that Axios is garbage, but Trump did not win because everyone was confused as to whether he was “qualified” for the role.

  25. If a talentless, unaccomplished, corrupt and incompetent drone like Hillary = “Qualified”, the question becomes “for what?”. Managing the decline?

  26. “Unqualified” is the word journalists use when they can’t come up with a real argument against a president or a presidential candidate. Are you 35, a natural born US citizen and have been living here for the past 14 years? You are qualified to run for POTUS. There are no other required qualifications.

  27. Hillary lost because Hillary ran a shitty campaign. She lost because she spent way too much time in rich blue states like California and New York and not enough time in purple swing states where it mattered. She lost because she didn’t understand how the Electoral College worked. She lost because she couldn’t get her base out to vote.

    There was no Russian Conspiracy to steal the election from her. The Democrats did it to themselves. The Democrats could learn from the election and have a chance of winning in 2020, or they can keep blaming Russia and lose AGAIN in 2020. And it’s clear which direction they are heading.

    1. More Monday-morning punditry from someone who probably thought she was gonna win on election day morning.

      Why deny what nonpartisan investigators found to be true? Why does it bother you? Do you love Trump that much?

  28. Eric, yet again, subtly implies that HILLARY was a fucking qualified candidate.

    Which is why Libertarianism is a bit of a joke.

  29. At the risk of noticing trends, isn’t Ken Dilanian one of Fusion GPS go-to guys? Few guys were as consistently wrong on Russia as Ken was. Why is he taken seriously by anybody?

  30. If Russian bots can influence the election, how much more so can the media influence the election?

  31. “obviously unqualified candidate.”

    Because a billionaire businessman is sooooo much less qualified than some affirmative action president that never held a real job in his life… Or the son of a former president and CIA spook who had everything handed to him and STILL failed in business… Not to mention W had a blow habit back in the day, and was a drunk, whereas Trump is a teetotaler who was able to turn his starting on 3rd base into becoming one of the wealthiest people on the planet…

    Gimme a break.

Please to post comments