Why is the spacing weird in these Trump campaign surveys?

Th e Tr ump c am pai gn l o v e s o nlin e surve y s.

President Trump’s campaign has run tens of thousands of surveys on Facebook that target supporters to ask them their opinions on issues and gather personal information. These survey websites are designed to convey authenticity with language like “for official use only” and “certified,” but on many of them, I noticed glaring inconsistencies in the spacing between some of the letters.

This spacing issue shows up in surveys like the campaign’s “Official 2020 Grassroots Victory Survey”…

… its “Official Democrat Corruption Accountability Survey”…

…and its “Official 2020 Congressional District Census,” which was taken down earlier this year for violating Facebook policies.

It’s not just the spacing in “C e r t i fie d” that’s off. You’ll also notice that some surveys have spacing inconsistencies in the word “Official,” with the two Fs uncomfortably close together:

Is this on purpose?

At first I thought this could be a glitch or coding error that would eventually be fixed. But after it kept showing up in multiple surveys months later, I wondered if it might be intentional.

While campaigns invest in professional design, the top concern is effectiveness and not necessarily aesthetic appeal. Sometimes “bad” design can be more effective, like in fundraising emails that rely on loud, garish graphics to ask for money.

Here’s a recent fundraising email from the Trump campaign that uses three different text colors, bold, italics, underline, highlight, and red boxes:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, is known for using the letter O instead of zeros in its emails. This practice, while not widespread in political fundraising, has been used in DCCC emails for years. Here’s one example from 2019:

Could it be the Trump campaign found that sites with letter spacing inconsistencies outperform a more professional-looking design?

To test whether this was purposeful, I looked at survey pages across different browsers. These inconsistencies showed up on multiple browsers on an iPhone, including Safari, Chrome, and Firefox:

On desktop, the spacing issue appeared on Safari, but not other browsers.

Here’s what the page for the campaign’s “Immigration Executive Order Survey” looks like on the Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge browsers:

Safari is the second-most popular browser in the U.S., according to Statcounter, with a 38% marketshare. But Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge make up more than half of U.S. internet users. If this is on purpose, it seems the campaign is missing out on a lot of desktop users.

Subscribe to Yello for the latest news on the culture, branding, and visual rhetoric of politics, delivered each week:

James Barnes, a former Facebook employee who was embedded with the Trump campaign in 2016 to consult on digital strategy, said he believes this spacing issue is intentional because the site uses Optimizely, an A/B testing platform, and because the site’s CSS, or Cascading Style Sheet, the language used to format a site’s layout, colors, and font, has parameters for subhead letter spacing.

“This is on purpose,” Barnes, who is now head of measurement for Acronym, a progressive nonprofit working to defeat Trump, told Yello in an email. “If you inspect the site in Chrome, you'll see that the .sub-header CSS class is styled w/ ‘letter-spacing: 9px.’ I also see that they've implemented Optimizely on their site, so Occum's Razor specifies that someone had a clever idea to play w/ the letter spacing, ran an experiment, and it worked.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to an email asking whether this spacing issue was intentional or how these surveys inform their strategy and messaging.

Tens of thousands of surveys

The Trump campaign has run more than 50,000 ads with the word “survey,” according to Facebook’s ad library.

Questions and answer options in these surveys can be leading and unabashedly pro-Trump. One survey launched on March 20, as unemployment figures were on the rise, asked, “Do you credit President Trump for the rampant job creation and record-low unemployment rates in America right now?”

The same survey asked whether Trump should keep using Twitter, if “stopping illegal immigration” should be the top issue of the campaign, and if respondents had ever attended a Trump rally. The only options to answer that question were “Yes” or “Not yet, but I want to!”

The survey also included the question “What do you think of President Trump’s idea to potentially purchase Greenland.”

After completing these surveys, respondents are prompted to enter their name, email address, zip code, and mobile number.