Cover: Partisanship and Risk Talk on Twitter

Partisanship and Risk Talk on Twitter

A Multipronged Analysis of the Prominence, Targets, and Drivers of Risk-Related Expression by Democrats Versus Republicans During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published in: Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media, Volume 4 (2024). DOI: 10.51685/jqd.2024.009

Posted on rand.org May 1, 2024

by Yini Zhang, Jody Chin Sing Wong, Zijian An, Maximilian Brimmer, Kenneth Joseph, Janet Zheng Yang

There is abundant evidence that political polarization is associated with perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This article turns to online expression and investigates the prominence, targets, and drivers of risk talk about the pandemic from Democrats and Republicans on Twitter/X, combining a user-level analysis, a content-level analysis, and manual coding of key accounts. We find that risk talk accounted for a greater share of pandemic-related discussion for Republicans compared to Democrats. Also, the specific targets of risk talk differed: Republicans focused more on risks related to public health guidelines and policies, vaccines, science, and the information environment, whereas Democrats emphasized risks associated with the coronavirus, politicians, and the economy. Furthermore, risk talk on both sides was spearheaded by news media, politicians, and activists; yet, this tendency to retweet opinion leaders was stronger among Republicans. These findings reveal nuanced partisan differences in risk-related opinion expression regarding the pandemic and point to the critical role of media and political elites within partisan groups in driving such opinion expression. Methodologically, our findings demonstrate how a multipronged analytic approach can help us identify meaningful expression patterns on social media.

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