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New study suggests Trump's 2016 poll numbers rose after increased Russian troll farm tweets

The Russian troll farms that carried out a sophisticated disinformation campaign on U.S. social media platforms in 2016 may have influenced President TrumpDonald TrumpFBI says California extremist may have targeted Newsom House Democrat touts resolution to expel Marjorie Taylor Greene from Congress Facebook to dial back political content on platform MORE's standing in public opinion polls during the campaign, according to a new study released Monday.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee said that for every 25,000 retweets each week by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), Trump's poll numbers would gain an increase of about 1 percent.

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"We find that changes in opinion poll numbers for one of the candidates were consistently preceded by corresponding changes in IRA re-tweet volume, at an optimum interval of one week before," the researchers wrote, referring to Trump. "As these tweets were part of a larger, multimedia campaign, it is plausible that the IRA was successful in influencing U.S. public opinion in 2016."

Researchers said that as the IRA ramped up its activity, there was a measurable change in opinion polling for Trump.

"As the popularity of presidential candidates ebbed and flowed during the 2016 campaign, changes in opinion poll numbers for Trump were consistently preceded by corresponding changes in IRA re-tweet volume, at an optimum interval of one week before. Compared to its time-average of about 38 percent, support for Trump increased to around 44 percent when IRA tweets were at their most successful," the researchers wrote, noting that the "number of tweets per week increased during the campaign."

Twitter has catalogued and released data that contained more than 9 million tweets stemming from the activity of 3,613 IRA-linked accounts, including roughly 800,000 English language tweets that were sent out during the 2016 campaign. 

While retweets and likes-per-tweet were followed by polling increases for Trump, the same online activity did not predict changes in public opinion for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHouse Democrat touts resolution to expel Marjorie Taylor Greene from Congress Hillary Clinton says Greene should 'be on a watch list,' not in Congress DOJ: Social media influencer charged with interference in 2016 election MORE, according to the study, which used polling data from FiveThirtyEight.com.

Researchers found that the IRA's most prominent Twitter accounts pushed two main themes: "discrediting an establishment figure in Hilary Clinton and emphasizing pre-existing societal divisions by focusing on black racial identity."

The researchers emphasized that they tested prediction — which they described to be "information in one time series" containing information about the future activity in other time series — rather than causality.

"Any correlation established by an observational study could be spurious. Though our main finding has proved robust and our time series analysis excludes reverse causation, there could still be a third variable driving the relationship between IRA Twitter success and U.S. election opinion polls," the researchers noted.

The study comes after former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE's 448-page report detailed the steps Russia took to interfere in the 2016 election, from carrying out a sophisticated disinformation campaign to launching cyberattacks.

Former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperThe biggest example of media malfeasance in 2020 is... Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community The new marshmallow media in the Biden era MORE, who served during the Obama administration, is among those who say they personally believe Russia "turned" the election to Trump. Former President Carter has also made similar remarks.

Trump and his allies have fiercely disputed that assertion, arguing that the race was won fair and square and that any allegations to the contrary are being made by disgruntled critics.