The advent of social media has fundamentally transformed American politics. Gone are the days of impersonal speeches, print newspaper ads, and lackluster debates that typically preceded a general election. Now, in order to win the presidency, a candidate must actively and personally engage the American people online.
As reflected by their inverse Twitter and Instagram feeds, President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. “Joe” Biden, the Republican and Democratic 2020 presidential nominees, respectively, could not be more unalike. In the age of the Internet, perception of a candidate’s image is everything, and the contrasts between the president and the former vice president are stark.
Donald Trump’s Twitter Presence
President Trump’s social media presence is divisive but seemingly persuasive to his audience. His Twitter account in particular is filled with broad generalizations, mischaracterizations, and occasionally overt falsehoods that impugn his opponents and ignite his base.
The above image depicts a graphic from the president’s official Twitter handle, @realDonaldTrump, which was also shared by the executive branch’s @WhiteHouse and @POTUS Twitter accounts on July 2, 2020. The post details the president’s accomplishment in adding 4.8 million jobs to the American economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in June of 2020. The graphic is misleading and self-serving, however, as many of the “new” jobs were simply due to workers returning to their places of employment following mass furloughs in response to COVID-19.
Nevertheless, the post illustrates one of President Trump’s leading advantages over former Vice President Biden: He is currently in office, and he is able to display real results to American voters every day.
Joe Biden’s Twitter Presence
Following a surprise string of endorsements and overwhelming Super Tuesday victories, former Vice President Biden’s social media strategy began to reflect the much more policy-intensive approach expected of a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president.
Now the presumptive Democratic nominee, Biden demonstrates a clear understanding of the issues valued by faithful American voters who elected former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president from January of 2009 until President Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017.
At his Twitter handle, @JoeBiden, the candidate embraces corporate branding to send a crafted message of progressivism and experience in action, building upon his record of getting things done in Congress during the Obama administration, most notably the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
The above graphic outlines Biden’s plan for expanding Obamacare in the face of President Trump’s attempts to repeal it and the democratic socialist movement to pass Medicare for All. By championing a public healthcare option for all Americans, Biden hopes to bridge the gap between Republicans in opposition to government-controlled healthcare and democratic socialists in favor of abolishing private healthcare altogether.
Donald Trump’s Instagram Presence
One of President Trump’s campaign promises to supporters in 2016 was to “drain the swamp” that is Washington, D.C, of radical leftism.
On social media in 2020, the president is still waging war against “Radical Left Indoctrination,” this time in America’s schools, in an active attempt to defund education across the United States, all the while lambasting the Democratic Party and former Vice President Biden for their support of the #DefundThePolice movement in response to widespread racial violence.
Posts such as this are typical at Trump’s Instagram handle, @realdonaldtrump, where the president primarily shares attack ads against top Democrats in Congress and reposts graphics from the official White House account, @whitehouse, detailing the extent of his accomplishments in office.
Trump has nevertheless proven his ability to galvanize support in the form of fearmongering and tough statements; whether unfounded or not, the president’s claims of “Radical Left Indoctrination” are sure to fire up his most ardent supporters in the face of alleged invasive, leftist propaganda in higher education.
Joe Biden’s Instagram Presence
At his Instagram handle, @joebiden, the former vice president does not mince words. His caption to the above post reads: “This is a job Donald Trump is entirely unfit for.”
The accompanying video cycles through a number of photographs depicting Vice President Biden in the Situation Room and greeting troops with former President Obama; during this time, a voiceover narrator attests to the “strength” and “resilience” of the Obama-Biden administration. Interspersed between the pictures are clips of President Trump’s response to the George Floyd protests in Washington, D.C., and his apparent photo-op in front of St. John’s Church, before which the president had protesters tear-gassed in order to clear him and his aides a path to the church.
Biden’s message here is clear: Unlike President Obama before him, Donald Trump is unfit to hold the office of the presidency. The video is meant to rally Biden’s Democratic base against incumbent Trump, characteristic of a general election attack ad and merely a preview of what is to come in the days and months leading up to November 3.
President Trump and former Vice President Biden are unafraid to push boundaries in an effort to claim victory come the general election. Each candidate’s respective social media campaign seeks to clearly illustrate their namesake’s policies, platforms, and individual beliefs in order to assail their opponents and inspire their supporters.
As the weeks inch closer to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, the presidential and vice presidential debates, and ultimately the November 3 election, tensions between the two candidates online are sure to heighten as voters prepare to head to the polls.