Political Risk Brief
2020 Analysis

COVID-19 Economic Response: Key Influencers on the Trump Administration

Introduction

A small subset of the Trump Administration will continue to direct the massive response to COVID-19, which already amounts to the most significant economic event of the past 75 years.  To navigate the sweeping federal intervention in the private sector now unfolding, business leaders must understand the influencers who shape the views of the Executive Branch.  Baron Public Affairs, LLC (Baron) applied its proprietary methodology – Influencer Analytics – to reveal the individuals who disproportionately drive the thinking of senior Trump Administration officials.

Influencer Analytics relies on the careful collection of thousands of data points and the application of a custom algorithm.  Baron’s process has been tested and refined, with recent projects involving the gathering of more than 100,000 reference citations by policy makers and other opinion leaders.  The system combines the best of quantitative research and qualitative analysis to score the influence of external parties and generate actionable insights.  The result: a powerful tool that equips private-sector leaders with the critical insights needed to understand and maneuver in a complex and dynamic political environment.

Methodology

During March and April 2020, Baron enlisted Influencer Analytics to identify the key external forces (individuals not serving in government) who shape the approach of the Trump Administration to COVID-19 emergency economic relief.  This effort involved:

  • Defining a universe of approximately 50 Trump Administration officials deeply involved in the economic policy response to COVID-19
  • Assembling a database of more than 5,000 public references by those decision makers to individuals not serving in government and to outside organizations
  • Inspecting and verifying each data point
  • Scoring external influence on Trump Administration COVID-19 decision makers using an algorithm that controls for frequency, consistency, and reach
  • Comparing 2020 results with Trump Administration Influencer Analytics conducted by Baron in 2017

Summary of Findings

  • President Donald J. Trump launched a media revolution that overthrew establishment conservative outlets and concentrated influence in a rival right-of-center opinion community.  This remarkable shift not only has persisted, but intensified since Baron conducted similar analysis in 2017.  Despite the departure of high-profile “true believers,” the connection between the Trump Administration and a new generation of post-Reagan/Bush conservative influencers has grown stronger than ever.
  • A remarkably small number of media organizations dominate influence of Trump Administration officials directing the economic response to COVID-19.  Nine out of ten top influencers hail from three media organizations, with the tenth earning influence through social media, not a traditional media outlet.
  • The public debate on many issues has gravitated away from think tanks.  No think tank scholar ranked in the top-20 most influential individuals.  Only three think tanks and one trade association currently rank among the top-50 most influential organizations and publications.
  • The influencer landscape is dynamic.  While many of the top organizations and publications have seen consistently high scores during the Trump Administration, certain individuals have risen or fallen significantly.  For example, the number-four most influential individual in 2020 jumped more than 2,000 ranks since 2017.  The number three influencer in 2017 dropped nearly 40 ranks in 2020.
  • The patterns of influence associated with COVID-19 policy making to date reflect a sidelining of the conventional voices and traditional institutions that typically loom large over the Executive Branch.  This alienation creates an unusual tension that challenges the Washington, D.C. governing class, especially within the ideological Center and Center-Right.

Outlook

Corporate executives charged with developing government relations strategy confront the most unusual landscape in Washington, D.C. since at least the Nixon Administration.  Once reliable sources of influence on Executive Branch political appointees have been rendered nearly irrelevant, and there exists a limited supply of measurable influencers for companies to enlist as champions.  This dynamic makes corporate advocacy particularly challenging, especially as COVID-19 compels the most dramatic action by government on economic policy since World War II.

 

To request a detailed briefing on the results and implications of Baron’s Influencer Analytics, please email [email protected].