Twitter posts reveal polarization in Congress on COVID-19

June 24, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The rapid politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen in messages members of the U.S. Congress sent about the issue on the social media site Twitter, a new analysis found.

Using artificial intelligence and resources from the Ohio Supercomputer Center, researchers conducted an analysis that covered all 30,887 tweets that members sent about COVID-19 from the first one on Jan. 17 through March 31.

The algorithm they created could correctly classify the political party of the member who sent each tweet 76 percent of the time, based only on the text of the tweet and the date it was sent.

"We found that once the parties started to figure out the political implications of the issue, polarization was evident in the tweets pretty quickly," said Jon Green, co-author of the study and doctoral student in political science at The Ohio State University.

The study was published today (June 24, 2020) in the journal Science Advances.

"It is remarkable that we could identify partisanship even when members have only 280 characters to send their messages in Twitter," said study co-author Skyler Cranmer, the Carter Phillips and Sue Henry Professor of Political Science at Ohio State.

Democrats sent out significantly more tweets (19,803) about COVID-19 than did Republicans (11,084), the study showed.

The gap in the number of tweets sent by Democratic versus Republican politicians widened after the first case of community spread was identified in California and grew further following the declaration of a national emergency.

"This suggests Democratic members were sending earlier and stronger signals to their constituents that they should be concerned about the crisis," Cranmer said.

What Democrats and Republicans tweeted about concerning the pandemic was different, too, results showed.

For example, the word "health" was used in 26 percent of Democratic tweets, but only 15 percent of Republican tweets.

Overall, Democrats were more likely to discuss public health and safety, as well as American workers, while Republicans emphasized a general need for national unity, discussed China and business, and framed the pandemic as a war.

As one component of the analysis, the researchers identified members who fell in the range of what they called "partisan overlap." Congressional members in this overlap area were those whose tweets were more likely to be confused by the algorithm with those of someone from the other party.

Only 31 percent of members fell in this area.

"That means for 69 percent of members, their tweets are more partisan than the most similar member of the other party," Green said.

Polarization was not constant over time.

In the first full week after the first mention of COVID-19, the algorithm developed by the researchers had relatively low accuracy when trying to determine whether a Democrat or a Republican wrote a particular tweet. That indicates there was little polarization.

However, polarization quickly rose, peaking during the week beginning Feb. 9. It then declined slightly in early-to-mid March before rising again in late March as the parties debated economic relief packages.

The findings suggest that Congress missed an opportunity early in the pandemic to develop a consensus that could have helped the United States respond to the crisis, Cranmer said.

"Something on the scale of COVID-19 requires a large-scale government response. The government can respond much better when it is united in its mission," he said.
-end-
Green and Cranmer, co-authored the study with their Ohio State political science colleagues Jared Edgerton and Daniel Naftel, along with Kelsey Shoub of the University of South Carolina.

Contact: Skyler Cranmer, Cranmer.12@osu.edu Jon Green, Green.1764@osu.edu

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, 614-292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

Related Pandemic Articles from Brightsurf:

Areas where the next pandemic could emerge are revealed
An international team of human- and animal health experts has incorporated environmental, social and economic considerations -- including air transit centrality - to identify key areas at risk of leading to the next pandemic.

Narcissists love being pandemic 'essential workers'
There's one group of essential workers who especially enjoy being called a ''hero'' during the COVID-19 pandemic: narcissists.

COVID-19: Air quality influences the pandemic
An interdisciplinary team from the University of Geneva and the ETH Z├╝rich spin-off Meteodat investigated possible interactions between acutely elevated levels of fine particulate matter and the virulence of the coronavirus disease.

People who purchased firearms during pandemic more likely to be suicidal
People who purchase a firearm during the pandemic are more likely to be suicidal than other firearm owners, according to a Rutgers study.

Measles outbreaks likely in wake of COVID-19 pandemic
Major measles outbreaks will likely occur during 2021 as an unexpected consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new academic article.

The COVID-19 pandemic: How US universities responded
A new George Mason University study found that the majority of university announcements occurred on the same day as the World Health Organization's pandemic declaration.

Researchers find evidence of pandemic fatigue
A new study from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology shows that the behavioral responses to COVID-19 differed by age.

Excessive alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic
The full impact of COVID-19 on alcohol use is not yet known, but rates have been rising during the first few months of the pandemic.

How fear encourages physical distancing during pandemic
Despite guidelines plastered on the walls and floors of grocery and retail stores encouraging customers to maintain six-feet of physical distance during the pandemic, many do not.

COVID-19 pandemic and $16 trillion virus
This Viewpoint aggregates mortality, morbidity, mental health conditions, and direct economic losses to estimate the total cost of the pandemic in the US on the optimistic assumption that it will be substantially contained by the fall of 2021.

Read More: Pandemic News and Pandemic Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.