Members of Congress remain deeply divided on COVID-19 issues, Twitter study shows

Members of the U.S. Congress are deeply divided on issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic — so much that the polarization can be reflected in their posts on the social networking site Twitter, according to new research.

As published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, a group of researchers at Ohio State University utilized artificial intelligence to initiate a thorough analysis of more than 30,000 tweets by congressional members in early-2020.

Based on their findings, partisanship was easily identifiable in the 280 characters contained in each Twitter message. Researchers found that Democrats sent out a drastically higher number of tweets compared to Republicans, pertaining to COVID-19.

Democrats initiated more than 19,000 tweets regarding COVID-19, while Republicans sent out nearly 11,000. The number of tweets surged following the first wave of confirmed cases in California and as the country entered into a pandemic.

The tweets varied by political affiliation; for instance, Democrats were more likely to discuss public health and safety, meanwhile, Republicans discussed national unity, economy, and bilateral relations with China.

“We find that Democrats discussed the crisis more frequently—emphasizing threats to public health and American workers, while Republicans placed greater emphasis on China and businesses,” the co-authors explained in their findings.

“Polarization in elite discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic peaked in mid-February – weeks after the first confirmed case in the United States – and continued into March. These divergent cues correspond with a partisan divide in the public’s early reaction to the crisis.”

“These results highlight the degree to which a political consensus regarding the COVID-19 pan- demic failed to quickly materialize in the United States,” the co-authors concluded.

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