Americans are “polarized, together” about Trump’s tweets, UB-led study says

Jun 26, 2019

Democrats and Republicans are less divided than it may seem, at least when it comes to the president’s tweets, according to a new study led by a University at Buffalo researcher.


Published just in time for this week’s Democratic primary debates, the study summarized partisan support for President Donald J. Trump’s tweets as “Polarized, Together.”

President Donald J. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Credit Eileen Koteras Elibol/File Photo

“I don’t think that this is going to shock you: In general, Democrats don’t like Trump’s tweets and Republicans do,” said Kenneth Joseph, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University at Buffalo and lead author of the study. “But I think the more interesting thing is once you account for that, Republicans and Democrats actually seem to agree on which tweets are better and which tweets are worse.”

Joseph and his team used data from Twitter and YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, to analyze the public perception of 4,300 of the president’s tweets. Members of both parties disapproved of insults and false information, which the study found to represent a full half of Trump’s tweets.

Kenneth Joseph is an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University at Buffalo.
Credit Courtesy of Kenneth Joseph

From Trump’s inauguration through the end of 2018, the period examined by the study, 28% of the president’s tweets contained an insult and 22% contained a false statement. Another 16% offered support or condolences, and those tweets were generally better liked by both Democrats and Republicans.

“One way you can take this is kind of glass half full, like, ‘Hey, Democrats and Republicans are agreeing, isn’t that great?’” Joseph said. But he sees another narrative in the data, too. “There’s maybe some normalization going on of this sort of behavior in politics writ large, and that’s probably not a good thing.”

The study found that public opinion varies depending on who President Trump is insulting. Republicans are more inclined to support insulting tweets – unless the insults are directed at Republicans. Democrats do not express support for any insulting tweets, and they react even more negatively when Trump insults women and members of the media. Democrats also reacted more negatively to insults of white people compared to those aimed at Middle Eastern individuals.

“It’s not fun to read through Trump’s tweets,” Joseph said of his work, which found similar reactions to the tweets of other political figures like Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Mitch McConnell. He also posed a question for this divisive political moment.

“Are we all just implicitly agreeing that at least we hope our politicians are civil on Twitter, and that’s kind of all we can hope for at this point? I think our data’s also consistent with that story.”