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How Trump’s Removal From Social Media Could Affect His Grasp On The GOP

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

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Facebook said last month that it plans to suspend Donald Trump for at least the next two years, which, coupled with his permanent suspension from Twitter, takes away arguably two of the former president’s biggest political megaphones.

A slim majority of voters are OK with Facebook’s decision, too. According to a Politico-Morning Consult survey released this week, 51 percent of registered voters either strongly or somewhat support Facebook’s decision. Unsurprisingly, Democrats and independent voters (86 percent and 46 percent, respectively) are more supportive of the platforms’ decision than Republicans (15 percent), which echoes what previous polls about Twitter’s ban of the former president found. Following the platform’s suspension of Trump’s account, 52 percent of Americans, according to a January SurveyMonkey poll, said they supported the decision. Again, support varied widely across party lines: 69 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners strongly opposed it and 79 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners strongly supported it.

Since getting booted off social media, Trump started a blog that he killed after 29 days, reportedly due to paltry readership. But that doesn’t mean the former president’s message isn’t getting out there — or not resonating with the Republican base. 

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In fact, an analysis by The New York Times found that, since the Facebook and Twitter bans, Trump’s messages are still getting heavily liked and shared across social media — particularly because they are getting picked up by far-right media outlets and his supporters with large followings. For example, three of the top sharers of one of Trump’s March statements to his website were Breitbart News, a Facebook page called “President Donald Trump Fan Club” and Jenna Ellis, a lawyer who worked with Trump’s team in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Combined, the three generated nearly 250,000 likes and shares of Trump’s post. (Prior to the ban, the median social media post would generate 272,000 likes and shares, the Times found).

On top of that, Trump retains his grip on the GOP by speaking at a number of public events, including his February speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference and state Republican conventions. He’s also slated to give a CPAC speech next month in Dallas

That’s why experts I spoke to said Trump’s removal from two of the biggest social media platforms likely won’t affect his grasp on the GOP — at least not in the short term. “The larger right-wing media ecosystem isn’t going away anytime soon,” said Daniel Kriess, a professor at the University of North Carolina. “To the extent that they continue to give him a platform and treat him as the leader of the Republican Party, Trump is going to maintain and retain his hold.”

A person sitting down wearing a shirt that says “We the People are pissed off” and has an eagle flying over an American flag with only red.

related: Republicans Really, Really Dislike Biden. But It’s Not Just About Him. Read more. »

For most politicians, social media has become a powerful tool in shaping their campaigns. In fact, a 2016 study found that new candidates seeking office can get a substantial boost in support by using social media channels. These platforms can also help level the playing field in politics, the researchers found, since both Twitter and Facebook are free and money and access to communication channels are barriers to new political candidates. 

In Trump’s case, this research might not be applicable given he’s a pretty well-established candidate. But there’s one place where a social media ban could really hurt him: fundraising. In the past, Trump the candidate used Facebook prolifically. After the 2016 election, his former digital director, Brad Parscale, told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that the campaign spent most of its digital advertising dollars on Facebook. The campaign’s heavy spending on the platform continued into 2020, with Trump’s reelection campaign spending billions of dollars. “Facebook is a powerful fundraising tool and if the president is not able to run political ads or is unable to consistently message and engage supporters and make appeals on a regular basis for money, that’ll absolutely hurt his electoral chances,” Kreiss said.

And while Trump might not need social media to build a loyal fan base — he already has one — he might run into trouble when it comes to controlling the media narrative without the megaphone of a social media account. As a candidate and as president, Trump would often take to Twitter to air grievances, launch personal attacks or spread disinformation (including lies about the 2020 election), essentially setting the day’s news cycle with his tweets. So if he were to run again for the presidency in 2024 (as he’s reportedly considering), it’s likely his campaign would suffer without a Facebook or Twitter account. 

It’s also possible, though, that the bans don’t hurt Trump and instead have the opposite effect: Animating the Republican base, which is already skeptical of big tech regulations and didn’t support the two-year Facebook ban as nearly as much as Democrats and independent voters did. Still, Kreiss said he thinks it’s unlikely an issue of tech policy alone will turn out voters for a particular party or candidate — even Trump. What really matters, he said, is that Trump’s ban is part of a broader story that Republicans can tell about gatekeeping institutions that they feel silence conservative voices. “Republican candidates, Republican media and certainly Republican activists love to tell the story of tech giants who are censoring their views,” he said. “It reinforces this story that power institutions are biased against conservatives … and plays into the discourse that free speech is under assault.”

Other polling bites 

  • As more people continue to say they’ll get vaccinated or are vaccinated against COVID-19, new polling suggests that more Americans are now willing to return to their pre-pandemic lifestyles. According to Axios/Ipsos’s coronavirus index, 69 percent of adults now say they see little risk in returning to pre-COVID life (compared to 39 percent who felt the same way in March). And there’s been a large bump in the number of Americans who say they’ve gone back to activities they used to enjoy. The survey found that two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) said they saw family members and friends in the last week (compared to 44 percent at the beginning of March), while 61 percent went out to eat. But when it came to businesses and industries requiring proof of vaccination as things start to reopen, Americans were more split: While a majority said they support requiring proof to travel internationally (67 percent) or attend sporting events (56 percent), just about half of Americans said they support requiring vaccinations to dine indoors (47 percent), go to a salon (49 percent) or return to work (52 percent).
  • Speaking of the pandemic, new research also suggests the role of friends in Americans’ social life is declining. A recent poll from the Survey Center on American Life says that more people report having less close friendships than they did before COVID-19 hit. Young women are getting hit especially hard: Fifty-nine percent of women ages 18 to 29 either lost touch with most or a few of their friends (versus 52 percent of men in the same age group). There’s a silver lining, though. Despite prolonged bouts of isolation for many during the pandemic, nearly half of Americans (46 percent) say they’ve made a new friend in the last year. 
  • With Pride Month underway, Gallup reported this week that U.S. support for legal same-sex marriage has reached a record 70 percent. And the latest increase in support was largely driven by Republicans. Fifty-five percent are now in favor — the first time a majority of Republicans have said this since Gallup began polling on the topic in 1996. (Back then, only 16 percent of Republicans supported same-sex marriage.) 
  • A few weeks ago, I researched support for Roe v. Wade after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments regarding a Mississippi law that challenges the constitutional right to an abortion. New polling from Data For Progress echoes what previous polls have found: A majority of voters don’t want the high court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Fifty-seven percent of likely voters think the Supreme Court should not overturn the decision while 32 percent said the court should, allowing states to pass legislation that outlaws abortions. Additionally, nearly half of voters — both Republicans and Democrats — say they’re against state governments’ efforts to pass restrictive abortion legislation. According to the survey, 42 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of Democrats say state governments should protect the ability of women to have access to an abortion instead of creating more barriers. 
  • News reports surfaced recently that Trump has been telling people he’ll be reinstated as president in August. That, of course, is not possible —  even Trump’s top advisers have said there’s not a constitutional mechanism that would give him back the presidency.  But some Republicans appear to be holding out hope, according to data from a new Morning Consult survey. While most members of the GOP (61 percent) say it’s unlikely Trump will be restored to the presidency, another 29 percent believe it’s very or somewhat likely to happen. But regardless of whether voters think Trump will be reinstated, an overwhelming share of Americans — 82 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Democrats — believe America’s democracy is currently under threat, the poll found. 
  • The election of President Biden, meanwhile, has increased America’s image among other nations relative to what it was under Trump, per polling from the Pew Research Center. Throughout Trump’s presidency, Pew found, many countries held the U.S. in low regard and were overwhelmingly opposed to its foreign policies. But of 12 nations surveyed both this year and last, a median of 75 percent say they’re confident in Biden’s ability to do the right thing regarding world affairs (just 17 percent felt the same way by the end of Trump’s presidency).

Biden approval 

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 53.0 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 40.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +12.4 percentage points.) At this time last week, 53.2 percent approved and 40.3 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of +12.8 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 54.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 39.6 percent (a net approval rating of 14.4 points).

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  1. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Alex Samuels was a politics reporter at FiveThirtyEight.