viernes, 20 de julio de 2018

Taking Sides on Facebook: How Congressional Outreach Changed Under President Trump

Democratic legislators’ opposition on Facebook spiked after Trump’s election, while angry reactions increased among all congressional Facebook followers

The 2016 presidential election coincided with substantial shifts in the ways that members of Congress communicated with their constituents online. A new Pew Research Center analysis examines congressional Facebook posts from Jan. 1, 2015, through Dec. 31, 2017, a three-year timespan that includes the entire 114th session of Congress, the 2016 primary and general elections, the first year of the 115th Congress, and Republican President Donald Trump’s first year in office. The analysis finds that Democrats expressed political opposition nearly five times as much under Trump as they did during the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Much of this opposition was directed at President Trump, though Democrats also increasingly opposed Republican members of Congress.


Meanwhile, congressional Republicans posted in support of Trump more than twice as much as congressional Democrats posted in support of President Obama during his final two years in office (researchers did not have access to posts from Obama’s first year in office).2

Members of Congress who expressed political opposition most often were also the most liberal or conservative.3 This pattern is in line with the Center’s previous research on how members of Congress express political disagreement. But the new analysis also shows that the most ideological members were also the most likely to express support for others in their party. In other words, the most liberal and conservative members of Congress both attacked those on the other side more often and were more likely to affirm their own side’s decisions and positions. Moderates, meanwhile, tended to focus most of their posts on local issues.

Changes occurred not only in what members posted, but also in how their online audiences responded. The Facebook audience increasingly expressed angry reactions when responding to congressional posts. In early 2016, Facebook introduced alternatives to the traditional “like” reaction – and between late February 2016 and Election Day, just 2% of all reactions to posts used the “angry” option. But by the end of 2017, 9% of all reactions to posts by Democrats and 13% of reactions to posts by Republicans were angry.

Nearly universally, both supportive and oppositional posts about Trump or Obama drew more engagement – including likes, comments and shares – than posts about other topics. But the pattern was somewhat different for Hillary Clinton. Congressional posts that supported her drew the same number of likes as posts that did not take sides either way, while posts opposing her received 93% more likes on average – the largest increase in likes across all the kinds of posts examined here.

The new analysis used a combination of human coders and machine learning techniques to examine both the changing nature of congressional Facebook outreach and the way Facebook audiences responded to varying kinds of messages. To create the dataset, researchers studied more than 700,000 posts from 599 members of Congress during a three-year period surrounding the November 2016 election and Trump’s first year in office, beginning Jan. 1, 2015, and ending Dec. 31, 2017. Among the key findings:
After Trump’s election
Change of tone for Democrats after Trump took office: Following Trump’s inauguration, the share of Democratic legislators’ Facebook posts that included oppositional language – defined here as posts that oppose or disagree with the actions, decisions or positions of Trump and his administration or Republicans and conservatives – peaked in March 2017 at an average of 33% of all of their posts before ramping down to 24% toward the end of the year. That compares with an average of 12% of Republican lawmakers’ posts expressing opposition to Democrats and liberals or Obama during the last two years of his presidency. Democratic opposition during Obama’s presidency – at that point mostly aimed at congressional Republicans – appeared in just 6% of their Facebook posts.
Republicans expressed more support for Trump in his first year than Democrats did for Obama in the previous Congress: Just 4% of the average congressional Democrat’s Facebook posts from January 2015 through December 2016 expressed support for Obama. In contrast, the average Republican member expressed support for Trump in 9% of their Facebook posts in 2017.
After the election, the Facebook audience was far more likely to use the “angry” reaction to respond to outreach: Between Feb. 24, 2016 (when the reactions were first made available to Facebook users) and Election Day, 2% of all Facebook reactions to congressional posts were angry. But after the election through the end of 2017, that share tripled to 6%.4 By December 2017, the average was 9% for posts by Democrats and 13% for posts by Republicans.
During the 2016 campaign
Members of both parties focused more on Clinton than Trump during the 2016 campaign: Both presidential candidates drew modest attention from members of Congress on Facebook, and then-candidate Trump received less support from members of his party than Clinton did from hers. Between each party’s convention and Election Day, Democrats in Congress posted in support of Clinton substantially more often (a total of 1,614 posts) than Republicans posted in support of Trump (a total of 690 posts). However, Republicans opposed Clinton in 2,041 posts, far more than Democrats expressed opposition to Trump (1,383 posts).
Consistent patterns
Moderates went local, while very liberal and very conservative members took sides: Moderates in Congress were less likely to express political support or opposition than were very liberal or conservative members. The majority of moderates’ outreach focused on local issues (54%, compared with 38% for the most liberal or conservative members). Those in the middle of the ideological spectrum issued statements of political support and opposition about half as often as those on either end of the ideological spectrum.
More online followers engaged when elected officials took sides, especially when opposing individuals on the other side: Across the full time frame of the study, congressional posts that opposed Obama, Trump or Clinton earned more likes, comments and shares than posts that didn’t take sides either way. Posts that expressed support for politicians also received more engagement some of the time, but the pattern was not always consistent.

This analysis is based on 737,598 Facebook posts issued by 599 members of Congress between Jan. 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2017. The total number of legislators is greater than 535 (the current number of voting officials in the U.S. House and Senate) because members who were newly elected in the 115th Congress or in special elections are included in the study, as long as they produced at least 10 posts within a given Congress.

Researchers included both official Facebook accounts (those managed by congressional staff) and unofficial accounts (those used in a personal or campaign capacity) for members of Congress in this analysis. They did so in order to capture a more complete range of outreach on social media than would be possible with official accounts alone. As a result, the study includes a total of 1,129 accounts belonging to the 599 individual legislators.

Official accounts are used to communicate information as part of the member’s representational or legislative capacity, and U.S. Senate and House members may draw upon official staff resources appropriated by Congress when releasing content via these accounts. Unofficial accounts – often used in a personal and campaign capacity – may not draw on these government resources under official House and Senate guidelines. Members posted more often on official accounts across the study period: 76% of the average member’s posts came from their official account (for Democrats, the share was 78%; for Republicans, it was 75%).

To classify the posts, Pew Research Center manually analyzed a subset (11,000 total) of all the posts, classifying each post’s contents for the events, topics and issues raised or discussed in each one. Specifically, the analysts coded each post based on whether it expressed disagreement with presidents, candidates or parties; expressed support for the same; or mentioned local events, places or people. Next, researchers trained machine learning algorithms to make predictions – based on what the human coders reported – in order to classify the content of the entire set of posts.

How researchers classified more than 700,000 posts

While Facebook is one important part of members’ media outreach efforts, members also communicate with their constituents through press releases, town hall meetings, media appearances and on other social media outlets. Although this report does not examine communication across all these channels, Facebook posts constitute a useful way to compare members’ communication, as they can be systematically captured and analyzed. Previous research suggests that statements that members of Congress express on Facebook are similar in many ways to those they make in press releases. Focusing on Facebook posts also makes it possible to measure how much a member’s audience interacts with their posts via likes, comments and shares. Facebook is the most widely used social media website (excluding YouTube) and the social media site from which most Americans get news.

Democrats posted more and expressed more opposition after Trump took office

Shortly after Election Day 2016, Democratic members of Congress became more active on Facebook, posting more frequently than Republican members for the first time since at least January 2015. And in those posts, they expressed more than twice as much political opposition – directed at both President Trump and Republicans – than Republican legislators expressed on Facebook toward Obama and Democrats during the last two years of his term. Researchers tracked congressional rhetoric on Facebook beginning in 2015.
Democrats posted more under Trump than under Obama; Republicans posted less

In 2017, Democrats in Congress started posting more often, while Republicans posted less. The average Democrat posted 33% more often during the 115th Congress than in the 114th, going from 34 posts per month to 45 posts per month. Republicans posted less often, from an average of 42 to 37 posts per month.

Cumulatively, these changes have had a substantial impact on the total volume of Facebook posts being produced across all members of Congress in each party. Democratic members in the 115th Congress produced over 34,000 more Facebook posts across 2017 than they averaged in each year of the 114th Congress. In contrast, Republicans produced over 25,000 fewer posts in 2017 than they averaged during the previous two years.

How members of Congress expressed support and opposition
Democratic focus of opposition shifted from Trump to Republicans in late 2017

Overall, 30% of the average Democrat’s posts in 2017 contained some form of opposition toward Trump, Republicans or both. At the outset of the new administration, the majority of this opposition was directed at the president. Out of all the oppositional posts that the average Democrat produced in 2017, 71% of those posts targeted Trump, while 41% targeted Republicans more generally (some targeted both).

However, throughout Trump’s first year in office, Democrats shifted their focus away from the president, choosing to target their opposition toward Republicans with increasing frequency. By the end of the year, Democratic Facebook posts were more likely to express opposition toward Republicans than Trump. In December 2017, 70% of Democratic posts that expressed opposition were directed at Republicans, while only 43% of oppositional posts targeted the president.

These patterns parallel an increased appetite for political conflict among legislators’ Democratic constituents. From 2017 to 2018, the percentage of Democrats in the U.S. public who said they like elected officials who make compromises with those they disagree with dropped from 69% to 46%.

Across the study period, Republicans focused on President Obama in 82% of oppositional posts on average (8% of all posts by the average lawmaker). A much smaller share of Republicans’ posts expressed opposition toward Democrats or Hillary Clinton (2% and 1% of all posts by the average lawmaker, respectively). This focus on Obama persisted after the election. Across 2017, statements opposing Obama and Obama-era policies like the Affordable Care Act were more common than those opposing Democrats. At the same time, throughout 2017, fewer than 1% of the average Republican’s posts expressed opposition to Clinton, despite some anecdotal reports to the contrary.
Very liberal and conservative legislators took sides; moderates went local

More liberal or conservative legislators – based on the DW-NOMINATE estimate of ideology – were about twice as likely to express either support or opposition toward other political figures and groups as compared with more moderate members.

Moderate members – defined as those that fell in the middle 20% of the roll-call-based ideology estimate – publicly opposed others in about 7% of posts, compared with a rate of about 16% for the most conservative or liberal members, defined as those in the most liberal tenth or most conservative tenth of the ideology measure. Moderates expressed support for the president or their party in roughly 5% of their Facebook posts, while the most liberal or conservative members did so in 10% of all their Facebook outreach.

During the 115th Congress, starting in January 2017 and including the inauguration of President Trump, the link between ideology and political opposition became even more pronounced among Democrats. For that Congress, the most liberal Democrats expressed opposition in 35% of posts on average, compared with 10% for moderates.

In contrast, while the most liberal and conservative members of Congress focused their rhetoric on expressions of political support and opposition, moderates disproportionately talked about local issues in their Facebook outreach. These posts, which draw attention to individuals, groups, and organizations in the state or district the member represents, made up more than half of all posts from the most moderate members of Congress, compared with about one-third of posts for those on each end of the ideological spectrum.

In general, members were more likely to cover these local issues than engage in other forms of outreach described here, including opposition to political opponents. Over the course of the full three-year study period, nearly half of congressional outreach on Facebook focused on local issues (45% of posts), compared with the 13% of all posts that expressed oppositional views. The average Republican focused on local topics in 48% of Facebook posts, compared with a rate of 44% for the average Democrat. Meanwhile, only 16% of posts from the average Democrat and 10% from the average Republican expressed opposition to the other side. Across both parties, the average legislator expressed support for others in their own party in 8% of posts.
During the 2016 campaign, members of both parties focused on Clinton

During the run-up to the 2016 election, Trump and Clinton drew modest attention from members of Congress on Facebook, and then-candidate Trump received less support from members of his party than Clinton did from hers. Between each party’s convention and Election Day, Democrats in Congress posted in support of Clinton substantially more often (a total of 1,614 posts) than Republicans posted in support of Trump (a total of 690 posts). However, Republicans opposed Clinton in 2,041 posts, far more than Democrats expressed opposition to Trump (1,383 posts).

Legislators also weighed in on the two candidates using both their unofficial and official accounts. In total, 154 (11%) of the 1,383 pre-election posts in which Democrats opposed then-candidate Trump came from legislators’ official accounts. Republicans leaned even more heavily on their official accounts when it came to candidate-focused election outreach, using those accounts to express opposition to Clinton in about one out of every four posts (26%) that did so across both account types (522 of 2,041 total posts). Congressional rules prohibit legislators from posting campaign-related content on their official accounts, but these restrictions may not apply to posts that mention political candidates outside the context of elections. Clinton was often discussed in the context of her role as secretary of state under President Obama, and Republican opposition to Clinton frequently focused on issues such as the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and the FBI investigation into her use of a personal email account as secretary of state. In contrast, posts by Democrats that opposed Trump focused on his role as a presidential candidate and public figure.

How the Facebook audience engaged with congressional posts

When members of Congress posted in support of or opposition to political candidates, their Facebook audiences engaged more compared with posts that did not. At the same time, an increasingly large proportion of “reactions” to congressional posts – a set of emoji introduced by Facebook in February 2016 to capture user’s responses – featured the “anger” reaction. Over the full range of the study, legislators’ Facebook audiences liked congressional posts over 481 million times, created more than 45 million comments in response to posts, and shared the posts over 141 million times. Those audiences also used the “angry” reaction more than 24 million times.

This analysis uses statistical models to examine how the presence of support or opposition in a Facebook post can affect the number of likes, comments and shares it receives. The models help account for other factors that could impact that post’s engagement, such as the number of followers a given post’s author has and when it was posted. See methodology section for additional details. All of the reported results are based on the entire three-year time frame.
The Facebook audience engaged with oppositional posts more than with ones that didn’t take sides

Posts opposing Presidents Trump and Obama and former Secretary Clinton drew more likes from Facebook audiences compared with posts that didn’t express political support or opposition. On average, posts opposing Trump received 53% more likes, posts opposing Obama received 54% more and posts opposing Clinton received 93% more likes. However, this pattern was more muted when posts opposed Democrats or Republicans more generally: Those posts received 32% and 12% more likes than posts that didn’t take sides. These findings parallel earlier research that examined the relationship between political disagreement and Facebook engagement.

Among posts expressing political support, the results were less consistent. Posts supporting Trump, Obama and Democrats received an estimated boost in likes of 56%, 38% and 21%, respectively, relative to a post that did not contain any support or opposition. But the boost in likes for posts that supported Clinton or Republicans was much smaller: 2% and 5%, respectively.7

The Facebook audience was also more likely to leave comments on posts that expressed either support or opposition than on posts that did neither. When it came to comments, oppositional posts were consistently more likely to result in comments than posts that expressed support. Posts that opposed Clinton received the largest boost in comments, garnering 171% as many comments as the average post that did not express either support or opposition. Similarly, posts opposing Obama and Trump received 155% and 113% more comments. Posts expressing support for Trump, Obama and Clinton received boosts in comments of 90%, 46% and 83%, respectively. A similar but less pronounced pattern emerged for posts opposing and supporting the two political parties.

When it came to Facebook shares, which refer to users reposting congressional posts for their own Facebook audiences, the difference between posts expressing opposition and posts expressing support was most pronounced. Posts that opposed Trump, Obama and Clinton received an estimated boost in shares of 141%, 155% and 225%, respectively. However, posts that expressed support for Trump or Obama received smaller increases, of 41% and 35%. And posts that supported Clinton actually received fewer shares than posts that did not take sides; a decrease of 33%. Posts supporting Democrats and Republicans also received fewer shares than posts that didn’t take sides, decreasing 26% and 9% of shares, respectively.
Angry reactions from the Facebook audience increased; posts expressing opposition received most anger

Legislators’ Facebook audiences became much more likely to react to posts with Facebook’s “angry” button in the wake of the 2016 election. Prior to the election (but after the “angry” feature was released), just 1% of all reactions to posts by Democrats were angry. After the election, that share increased to 5%, on average. Among Republicans, the share of angry reactions increased from 2% before the election to 6% after. While “likes” remain the most common reaction, “angry” was the most frequently used of the six alternatives (such as “haha,” “wow,” and “love”). This has not always been the case. Prior to Trump’s inauguration, the “love” reaction was the most commonly used alternative to “likes,” but it has since been largely eclipsed by “angry.” The use of angry reactions to congressional Facebook posts rose throughout 2017, reaching its highest observed rates at the end of the year, comprising 9% of all reactions to the average Democrat’s posts in December 2017, and 13% of the average Republican’s.

Angry reactions were especially likely to ensue when posts expressed political opposition. Posts that expressed opposition to Trump received an estimated five times as many angry reactions as posts that did not express support or opposition toward any figure or group. When Democrats expressed opposition to Republicans, they earned six times as many angry reactions, on average. Because the emotional reactions were not available across the entire timeframe, this analysis is based upon posts created between Feb. 23, 2016 (the day before the reactions were released) and Dec. 31, 2017.
Comments increased after Trump won 2016 election

In the wake of the 2016 election, legislators’ Facebook audiences became much more likely to engage online by posting comments. Across both parties, the average number of comments per post increased more than 200%, comparing the time period before the 2016 election with all posts created afterward.

Just as the use of angry reactions peaked in December 2017, the Facebook audience became more likely to post comments at the end of that year, averaging 125 comments per post. By contrast, in December 2015, the average post received just 65 comments. This pattern is even more pronounced when examining the median number of comments per post. That number more than tripled, from seven comments per post at the end of 2015 to 22 comments by December 2017.

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