Sunday, January 8, 2023

Partisanship on Social Media: In-Party Love Among American Politicians, Greater Engagement with Out-Party Hate Among Ordinary Users

Partisanship on Social Media: In-Party Love Among American Politicians, Greater Engagement with Out-Party Hate Among Ordinary Users. Xudong Yu, Magdalena Wojcieszak & Andreu Casas. Political Behavior, Jan 8 2023.

Abstract: Americans view their in-party members positively and out-party members negatively. It remains unclear, however, whether in-party affinity (i.e., positive partisanship) or out-party animosity (i.e., negative partisanship) more strongly influences political attitudes and behaviors. Unlike past work, which relies on survey self-reports or experimental designs among ordinary citizens, this pre-registered project examines actual social media expressions of an exhaustive list of American politicians as well as citizens’ engagement with these posts. Relying on 1,195,844 tweets sent by 564 political elites (i.e., members of US House and Senate, Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees from 2000 to 2020, and members of the Trump Cabinet) and machine learning to reliably classify the tone of the tweets, we show that elite expressions online are driven by positive partisanship more than negative partisanship. Although politicians post many tweets negative toward the out-party, they post more tweets positive toward their in-party. However, more ideologically extreme politicians and those in the opposition (i.e., the Democrats) are more negative toward the out-party than those ideologically moderate and whose party is in power. Furthermore, examining how Twitter users react to these posts, we find that negative partisanship plays a greater role in online engagement: users are more likely to like and share politicians’ tweets negative toward the out-party than tweets positive toward the in-party. This project has important theoretical and democratic implications, and extends the use of trace data and computational methods in political behavior.


Our project examined social media expressions of American politicians as well as users’ engagement with these tweets to offer comprehensive evidence on the effects of positive and negative partisanship on elites and citizens. We offer three noteworthy findings. First, American politicians are more likely to express support toward their own party than to speak out against the opponents, indicating that the overall charge of partisanship for these elites is positive when they discuss politics on social media. This robust pattern emerges when comparing the total number of tweets praising the in-party with that of tweets criticizing the out-party and also calculating the proportion of elite accounts/elites that post more tweets expressing in-party favorability than those expressing out-party negativity. Although many scholars observe that negative partisanship is on the rise in the US (e.g., Abramowitz & Webster, 2016; Iyengar et al., 2012), our evidence suggests that positive partisanship still dominates political expressions of American politicians on Twitter, so—at least in this context—our findings are more optimistic than the general observations. However, we note that a large share of elite tweets attacks the opposition, an issue we address in more detail below. Because we analyzed an exhaustive set of 564 political elites, identified all their tweets mentioning the in-party and the out-party, and employed validated classifiers to analyze those tweets, we are confident that our results are a robust and accurate representation of political expressions by American politicians on Twitter.

Second, in an exception to this general pattern, we find that politicians who are ideologically more extreme are more likely to express negative partisanship than their more moderate counterparts: the former group is most motivated to attack the out-party. This largely holds for two measures of extremity and is consistent with prior literature that ideological polarization contributes to negative feelings toward the opposition (Abramowitz & Webster, 2018; Webster & Abramowitz, 2017). Combined with the fact that negative partisanship does not trail by a large margin, it implies that if the ideological division between the two parties keeps widening, negative partisanship may increase and may outstrip positive partisanship in elite opinion expressions. Moreover, in line with previous evidence that threats to party identity strengthen negative partisanship (Amira et al., 2021), members of the party in the opposition—i.e., Democrats—show greater negative partisanship than those of the ruling party and they become less negative toward the out-party after winning the House back in the 2018 midterm election. This finding suggests that negative partisanship may be used by the opposition as a tool to unite the party and against the common enemy (Bankert, 2022), yet more research on the temporal variations in and factors influencing positive and negative partisanship among politicians is needed to shed more light on this consequential finding.

Third, despite the overall dominance of positive partisanship among the elites, it is negative partisanship that drives ordinary citizens’ liking and sharing of elite messages. Tweets that attack the out-party receive more likes and retweets than those that favor the in-party. Although this contradicts previous finding that citizens penalize politicians for attacking the out-party (Costa, 2021), the inconsistency could be due to different methodologies and different demographics of the general public vs. (politically active) Twitter users. That said, we suspect our finding is not constrained to Twitter. Extensive work has established that “negativity bias” holds across studies, cultures, samples, and in divergent contexts (e.g., Ito et al., 1998; Soroka et al., 2019; Trussler & Soroka, 2014). More specific to our work, although the most politically active Twitter users follow in-party accounts, are more sorted, and have colder feelings toward the out-party than average Twitter users (Pew, 2019a), which could partly explain our finding, the very same characteristics apply to politically active and interested citizens in general (Levendusky, 2009), whether on Twitter or not. Lastly, a recent study (Rathje et al., 2021) found similar patterns across Twitter and Facebook, suggesting that greater engagement with out-party animosity is not unique to Twitter users.

When interpreting the results, several limitations need to be noted. First, as the data were collected before the 2020 election, it is unclear if these patterns would emerge after Joe Biden became the president. It is possible that Twitter suspending the account of Donald Trump and other events may have changed the nature of elite expressions. Second, as the American political system, media system, and party structures are unique, the findings of our study should not be generalized to other countries. More international and comparative research should be done to test whether politicians and citizens in different countries behave similarly or differently.

Third, we focus on tweets that explicitly mention the two parties and key politicians but do not account for policies, media organizations, or other factors associated with a party. It is very challenging to construct a comprehensive and unbiased list of political topics discussed from 2016 to 2020, and assessing how politicians talk about policies and other things is an important task for future work.

Fourth, we do not know the partisan affiliations of those users who engaged with elite tweets. We are interested in the more foundational evidence about elite expressions and citizen engagement; the questions surrounding political homophily are secondary and cannot be tested in our data. We speculate that users are more likely to engage with messages attacking the out-party because they primarily follow and interact with likeminded others (e.g., Eady et al., 2019; Mosleh et al., 2021; Wojcieszak et al., 2022). But regardless of this ideological consistency, our evidence shows that negativity toward the out-party, per se, is engaging and gets more attention (see also Rathje et al., 2021). In short, although the specific mechanisms behind these engagements cannot be disentangled in our data, we suspect it is the mere negativity combined with ideological consistency. It is likely that tweets negative toward the out-party infuriate out-party members, yet there are no reasons for those users to like and share these tweets (i.e., the behaviors we examined). Future work should explore whether out-party members are activated by such posts and fight back by commenting and quote tweeting.

Despite these limitations, our findings have important implications for American politics. To begin with, although elite expressions are mainly positive, the difference between the strength of positive and negative partisanship is not substantial. Some of the most powerful and most widely followed politicians, such as Trump and Biden, are also the ones who are most negative toward the out-party. Donald Trump post 440% (162 vs. 30) and Joe Biden post 294% (563 vs. 143) more tweets negative toward the out-party than tweets positive toward the in-party, respectively. Therefore, out-party negativity may actually reach a larger audience than in-party positivity. If we simply use the number of followers as a rough indicator of readership (e.g., if a politician has one million followers and they post two out-party attacks, then we assume that these tweets are read two million times), overall, tweets attacking the out-party are read 27% more than tweets praising the in-party, although the former is outnumbered by the latter.Footnote20

As importantly, negative partisanship may be amplified through citizen-elite interactions and through other means of communication. In our data, citizens reward politicians for attacking the opposition with more likes and shares, encouraging politicians to express out-party hostility more fiercely; and more exposure to elite tweets attacking the out-party may, in turn, generate greater citizen engagement and enhance out-party hostility among citizens. In fact, tweets sent by extreme in-party elites—who are most negative toward the out-party—are also more likely to be shared (Wojcieszak et al., 2022). Other work also shows that news organizations are more likely to cover extreme politicians than moderate politicians (Wagner & Gruszczynski, 2018). This amplification, by social media users, journalists, and news organizations, may further increase the general perception that American elites are hostile toward the other side. Questions as to whether users’ preferences for out-party negativity on social media are further exacerbated by Twitter’s algorithmFootnote21 or whether elite communication as mediated through mainstream media is more or less negative compared to social media are important directions for future work.

These two factors—the most powerful politicians are very negative toward the out-party and elite negative partisanship may be amplified by users and media—may ultimately create “illusion of polarization” in that citizens encounter a greater share of negative than positive elite information and expressions. Again, however, our over-time evidence systematically shows that this is an illusion, in that most elites, most of the time, post information and opinions that are not negative towards their political opponents. After accounting for the number of followers, the modal tone of the political elites is positive—politicians who mostly post positive tweets, as a whole, have 58% more followers than politicians who are mainly negative. Simply, the positive majority is not as influential and popular as the negative minority (e.g., an average negative politician has 43% more followers than an average positive politician).

We hope these findings inspire further research on the political use of social media, research that investigates the dynamics between politicians, media, and citizens using actual behavioral data and ideally, across different platforms. Only then will we be able to have a complete overview of the social media ecosystem, correctly identify problems, and come up with solutions.

The idea of pay transparency is to give workers the ability to renegotiate away pay discrepancies, but it actually shifts the bargaining power from the workers to the employer, naking wages more equal but lower

Pay-transparency laws do not work as advertised. The Economist, Jan 5 2023.

Which is a pity, as California and Washington have just adopted them

Labour advocates champion pay-transparency laws on the grounds that they will narrow pay disparities. But research suggests that this is achieved not by boosting the wages of lower-paid workers but by curbing the wages of higher-paid ones. A forthcoming paper by economists at the University of Toronto and Princeton University estimates that Canadian salary-disclosure laws implemented between 1996 and 2016 narrowed the gender pay gap of university professors by 20-30%. But there is also evidence that they lower salaries, on average. Another paper by professors at Chapel Hill, Cornell and Columbia University found that a Danish pay-transparency law adopted in 2006 shrank the gender pay gap by 13%, but only because it curbed the wages of male employees. Studies of Britain’s gender-pay-gap law, which was implemented in 2018, have reached similar conclusions.

Another misconception about pay-transparency laws is that they strengthen the bargaining power of workers. A recent paper by Zoe Cullen of Harvard Business School and Bobby Pakzad-Hurson of Brown University analysed the effects of 13 state laws passed between 2004 and 2016 that were designed to protect the right of workers to ask about the salaries of their co-workers. The authors found that the laws were associated with a 2% drop in wages, an outcome which the authors attribute to reduced bargaining power. “Although the idea of pay transparency is to give workers the ability to renegotiate away pay discrepancies, it actually shifts the bargaining power from the workers to the employer,” says Mr Pakzad-Hurson. “So wages are more equal,” explains Ms Cullen, “but they’re also lower.”

Rolf Degen summarizing... Widely touted psychology study, suggesting, in essence, that the rich are jerks, bites the dust in another, sophisticated replication failure

Jung, M. H., Smeets, P., Stoop, J., & Vosgerau, J. (2023). Social status and unethical behavior: Two replications of the field studies in Piff et al. (2012). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Jan 2023.

Abstract: Prominent social psychologists and major media outlets have put forward the notion that people of high socioeconomic status (SES) are more selfish and behave more unethically than people of low SES. In contrast, other research in economics and sociology has hypothesized and found a positive relationship between SES and prosocial and ethical behavior. We review the empirical evidence for these contradictory findings and conduct two direct, well-powered, and preregistered replications of the field studies by Piff and colleagues (2012) to test the relationship between SES and unethical/selfish behavior. Unlike the original findings, we find no evidence of a positive relationship between SES and unethical/selfish behavior in the two field replication studies.