Underlying socio-political processes behind the 2016 US election. John Bryden and Eric Silverman (2019), PLOS ONE https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0214854
Recently we have witnessed a number of rapid shifts toward populism in the rhetoric and policies of major political parties, as exemplified in the 2016 Brexit Referendum, 2016 US Election, and 2017 UK General Election. Our perspective here is to focus on understanding the underlying societal processes behind these recent political shifts.
We use novel methods to study social dynamics behind the 2016 Presidential election. This is done by using network science methods to identify key groups associated with the US right-wing during the election. We investigate how the groups grew on Twitter, and how their associated accounts changed their following behaviour over time.
We find a new external faction of Trump supporters took a strong influence over the traditional Republican Party (GOP) base during the election campaign. The new group dominated the GOP group in terms of new members and endorsement via Twitter follows. Growth of new accounts for the GOP party all but collapsed during the campaign.
While the Alt-right group was growing exponentially, it has remained relatively isolated. Counter to the mainstream view, we detected an unexpectedly low number of automated ‘bot’ accounts and accounts associated with foreign intervention in the Trump-supporting group. Our work demonstrates a powerful method for tracking the evolution of societal groups and reveals complex social processes behind political changes.