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FOR RELEASE JULY 18, 2018Taking Sides onFacebook: HowCongressional OutreachChanged UnderPresident TrumpDemocratic legislators’ opposition on Facebook spiked afterTrump’s election, while angry reactions increased among allcongressional Facebook followers.BY Patrick van Kessel, Adam Hughes, and Solomon MessingFOR MEDIA OR OTHER INQUIRIES:Patrick van Kessel, Senior Data ScientistAdam Hughes, Computational Social ScientistRachel Weisel, Communications Manager202.419.4372www.pewresearch.orgRECOMMENDED CITATIONVan Kessel, Hughes, and Messing, July 2018,“Taking Sides on Facebook: How CongressionalOutreach Changed Under President Trump”

1PEW RESEARCH CENTERAbout Pew Research CenterPew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudesand trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. The Center conductspublic opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven socialscience research. It studies U.S. politics and policy; journalism and media; internet, science andtechnology; religion and public life; Hispanic trends; global attitudes and trends; and U.S. socialand demographic trends. All of the Center’s reports are available at www.pewresearch.org. PewResearch Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. Pew Research Center 2018www.pewresearch.org

2PEW RESEARCH CENTERTerminologyPolitical opposition and political support refer to statements made by members of Congresson Facebook that oppose or support the actions, decisions or positions of political actors andgroups. This report examines support or opposition directed toward Donald Trump, BarackObama, Hillary Clinton, Democrats or liberals, and Republicans or conservatives. Researchersdetermined whether or not individual posts expressed opposition or support by classifying a set ofposts manually and then training a machine learning model to classify the rest. Researchersclassified whether posts expressed both opposition to some figures or groups and support forothers, but did not classify both support and opposition directed at the same figures or groups.Local issues refer to references within congressional statements to any place, group,individual(s) or event in the politician’s state or district. Researchers determined whether or notindividual posts discussed local issues by classifying a set of posts manually and then training amachine learning model to classify the rest.DW-NOMINATE is a measure of political ideology that places members of the U.S. House andSenate on a liberal-to-conservative ideology scale according to their roll-call voting history in eachlegislative session of Congress.1 The scale ranges from -1 (very liberal) to 1 (very conservative)across all Congresses. For the time period studied here, it ranges between -0.77 and 0.99. Veryliberal and very conservative legislators are defined as those with DW-NOMINATE scores in thefurthest left 10% and furthest right 10% of all DW-NOMINATE scores. Moderates are defined aslegislators with DW-NOMINATE scores in the middle 20% of all scores.Engagement on Facebook refers to “likes,” “comments” and “shares,” as well as specificreactions, such as “angry.” On the Facebook platform, these digital actions provide users a meansfor interacting with posts created by members of Congress.1. See Lewis, Jeffrey B., Keith Poole, Howard Rosenthal, Adam Boche, Aaron Rudkin, and Luke Sonnet. 2017. “Voteview: Congressional RollCall Votes Database.” https://voteview.com/www.pewresearch.org

3PEW RESEARCH CENTERTaking Sides on Facebook: How CongressionalOutreach Changed Under President TrumpDemocratic legislators’ opposition on Facebook spiked afterTrump’s election, while angry reactions increased among allcongressional Facebook followers.The 2016 presidential electioncoincided with substantialshifts in the ways thatmembers of Congresscommunicated with theirconstituents online. A newPew Research Center analysisexamines congressionalFacebook posts from Jan. 1,2015, through Dec. 31, 2017, athree-year timespan thatincludes the entire 114thsession of Congress, the 2016primary and general elections,the first year of the 115thCongress, and RepublicanPresident Donald Trump’sfirst year in office. Theanalysis finds that Democratsexpressed political oppositionnearly five times as muchunder Trump as they didduring the last two years ofBarack Obama’s presidency.Much of this opposition wasdirected at President Trump,though Democrats alsoincreasingly opposedRepublican members ofCongress.Following Trump’s election, Facebook posts fromDemocrats in Congress included more oppositionallanguageAverage % of posts expressing political oppositionNote: Political opposition includes statements that oppose President Trump or Republicansand conservatives (for Democrats) and statements that express opposition to PresidentObama, Hillary Clinton or Democrats and liberals (for Republicans). Lines are based onLOWESS estimates. The shaded regions are the 95% confidence bands for the estimatedtrends.Source: Pew Research analysis of Facebook posts created by members of Congress betweenJan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2017.“Taking Sides on Facebook: How Congressional Outreach Changed Under President Trump”PEW RESEARCH CENTERwww.pewresearch.org

4PEW RESEARCH CENTERMeanwhile, congressional Republicans posted in support of Trump more than twice as much ascongressional 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).2Members of Congress who expressed politicalopposition most often were also the most liberalor conservative.3 This pattern is in line with theCenter’s previous research on how members ofCongress express political disagreement. Butthe new analysis also shows that the mostideological members were also the most likelyto express support for others in their party. Inother words, the most liberal and conservativemembers of Congress both attacked those onthe other side more often and were more likelyto affirm their own side’s decisions andpositions. Moderates, meanwhile, tended tofocus most of their posts on local issues.Changes occurred not only in what membersposted, but also in how their online audiencesresponded. The Facebook audience increasinglyexpressed angry reactions when responding tocongressional posts. In early 2016, Facebookintroduced alternatives to the traditional “like”reaction – and between late February 2016 andElection Day, just 2% of all reactions to postsused the “angry” option. But by the end of 2017,9% of all reactions to posts by Democrats and13% of reactions to posts by Republicans wereangry.Legislators’ Facebook audiences ‘liked’posts that opposed political figuresmore than posts that didn’t take sidesEstimated percentage increase in Facebook likes forposts containing Note: Points are estimated likes for posts that express oppositionand support directed at labeled political figures and groups.Estimates are predictions from a multiple regression OLS model thatincludes random intercepts for each member of Congress and weekin the data, alongside indicator variables for each presidentialadministration, legislator party and account type. The lines in thefigure represent the 95% confidence interval for each estimate. Seemethodology section for additional details.Source: Pew Research Center analysis of Facebook posts created bymembers of Congress between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2017.“Taking Sides on Facebook: How Congressional Outreach ChangedUnder President Trump”PEW RESEARCH CENTERNearly universally, both supportive andoppositional posts about Trump or Obama drew more engagement – including likes, comments2. Complete data could not be obtained for legislators’ accounts prior to the 114th Congress, as some members were not active on Facebookin earlier sessions, or have deleted their accounts since leaving office.3. Researchers used the DW-NOMINATE ideology measure, which is based on members’ roll-call voting records, to classify members as liberalor conservative.www.pewresearch.org

5PEW RESEARCH CENTERand shares – than posts about other topics. But the pattern was somewhat different for HillaryClinton. Congressional posts that supported her drew the same number of likes as posts that didnot take sides either way, while posts opposing her received 93% more likes on average – thelargest increase in likes across all the kinds of posts examined here.The new analysis used a combination of human coders and machine learning techniques toexamine both the changing nature of congressional Facebook outreach and the way Facebookaudiences responded to varying kinds of messages. To create the dataset, researchers studied morethan 700,000 posts from 599 members of Congress during a three-year period surrounding theNovember 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’sinauguration, the share of Democratic legislators’ Facebook posts that includedoppositional 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 to24% toward the end of the year. That compares with an average of 12% of Republicanlawmakers’ posts expressing opposition to Democrats and liberals or Obama during thelast two years of his presidency. Democratic opposition during Obama’s presidency – atthat point mostly aimed at congressional Republicans – appeared in just 6% of theirFacebook posts.§Republicans expressed more support for Trump in his first year thanDemocrats did for Obama in the previous Congress: Just 4% of the averagecongressional Democrat’s Facebook posts from January 2015 through December 2016expressed support for Obama. In contrast, the average Republican member expressedsupport 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 reactionswere first made available to Facebook users) and Election Day, 2% of all Facebookreactions to congressional posts were angry. But after the election through the end of 2017,www.pewresearch.org

6PEW RESEARCH CENTERthat share tripled to 6%.4 By December 2017, the average was 9% for posts by Democratsand 13% for posts by Republicans.During the 2016 campaign§Members of both parties focused more on Clinton than Trump during the2016 campaign: Both presidential candidates drew modest attention from members ofCongress on Facebook, and then-candidate Trump received less support from members ofhis 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 of1,614 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 expressedopposition to Trump (1,383 posts).Consistent patterns§Moderates went local, while very liberal and very conservative members tooksides: Moderates in Congress were less likely to express political support or oppositionthan were very liberal or conservative members. The majority of moderates’ outreachfocused on local issues (54%, compared with 38% for the most liberal or conservativemembers). Those in the middle of the ideological spectrum issued statements of politicalsupport and opposition about half as often as those on either end of the ideologicalspectrum.§More online followers engaged when elected officials took sides, especiallywhen opposing individuals on the other side: Across the full time frame of thestudy, 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 expressedsupport for politicians also received more engagement some of the time, but the patternwas not always consistent.This analysis is based on 737,598 Facebook posts issued by 599 members of Congress betweenJan. 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2017. The total number of legislators is greater than 535 (the currentnumber of voting officials in the U.S. House and Senate) because members who were newly electedin the 115th Congress or in special elections are included in the study, as long as they produced atleast 10 posts within a given Congress.4.For the average member’s average post. Other Facebook reactions include “like,” “love,” “haha,” “thankful,” “wow,” and “sad.”www.pewresearch.org

7PEW RESEARCH CENTERResearchers included bothofficial Facebook accounts (thosemanaged by congressional staff)and unofficial accounts (thoseused in a personal or campaigncapacity) for members ofCongress in this analysis. Theydid so in order to capture a morecomplete range of outreach onsocial media than would bepossible with official accountsalone. As a result, the studyincludes a total of 1,129 accountsbelonging to the 599 individuallegislators.Official accounts are used tocommunicate information aspart of the member’srepresentational or legislativecapacity, and U.S. Senate andHouse members may draw uponofficial staff resourcesappropriated by Congress whenreleasing content via theseaccounts. Unofficial accounts – often used in a personal and campaign capacity – may not draw onthese government resources under official House and Senate guidelines. Members posted moreoften on official accounts across the study period: 76% of the average member’s posts came fromtheir 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 theposts, classifying each post’s contents for the events, topics and issues raised or discussed in eachone. Specifically, the analysts coded each post based on whether it expressed disagreement withpresidents, 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 ofposts.www.pewresearch.org

8PEW RESEARCH CENTERHow researchers classified more than 700,000 postsResearchers asked human coders recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to read a sample of11,000 posts and then note whether or not the post mentioned a list of political figures and groups.That list included Trump, Obama and Clinton, as well as two political groups: Democrats and/orliberals and Republicans and/or conservatives. The coders determined whether each post thatmentioned one of those individuals or groups expressed support, opposition or neither towardeach figure or group. Human coders also determined whether or not each post discussed localissues, defined as relating to “a place, a group, individual(s), or an event in the politician’s state ordistrict.”Each set of particular kinds of post – those labeled as opposing Obama, or supportingRepublicans, for instance – was used as a “training dataset” for separate machine learning models.Those models used the human decisions about what words convey political support or oppositionas a guide for determining how to classify the remaining posts that human coders did not read andclassify. This approach builds upon previous Pew Research Center work that examined similarkinds of rhetoric in congressional statements. Performance statistics and additional details areprovided in the methodology.While Facebook is one important part of members’ media outreach efforts, members alsocommunicate with their constituents through press releases, town hall meetings, mediaappearances and on other social media outlets. Although this report does not examinecommunication across all these channels, Facebook posts constitute a useful way to comparemembers’ communication, as they can be systematically captured and analyzed. Previous researchsuggests that statements that members of Congress express on Facebook are similar in many waysto those they make in press releases. Focusing on Facebook posts also makes it possible tomeasure how much a member’s audience interacts with their posts via likes, comments andshares. Facebook is the most widely used social media website (excluding YouTube) and the socialmedia site from which most Americans get news.www.pewresearch.org

9PEW RESEARCH CENTER1. Democrats posted more and expressed more oppositionafter Trump took officeShortly after Election Day 2016, Democratic members of Congress became more active onFacebook, posting more frequently than Republican members for the first time since at leastJanuary 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 onFacebook toward Obama and Democrats during the last two years of his term. Researchers trackedcongressional rhetoric on Facebook beginning in 2015.Democrats posted more under Trump than under Obama; Republicans posted lessIn 2017, Democrats inCongress started posting moreoften, while Republicansposted less. The averageDemocrat posted 33% moreoften during the 115thCongress than in the 114th,going from 34 posts per monthto 45 posts per month.Republicans posted less often,from an average of 42 to 37posts per month.Cumulatively, these changeshave had a substantial impacton the total volume ofFacebook posts beingproduced across all membersof Congress in each party.Democratic members in the115th Congress produced over34,000 more Facebook postsacross 2017 than theyaveraged in each year of the114th Congress. In contrast,After 2016 election, Democrats in Congress posted onFacebook more often than RepublicansAverage daily number of Facebook posts created by individual Note: Each line is a smoothed estimate of the daily number of Facebook posts created bythe average Republican (red line) and the average Democratic (blue line) member ofCongress. Lines are based on LOWESS estimates. The shaded regions are the 95%confidence band for the estimated trends.Source: Pew Research Center analysis of Facebook posts created by members of Congressbetween Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2017.“Taking Sides on Facebook: How Congressional Outreach Changed Under President Trump”PEW RESEARCH CENTERwww.pewresearch.org

10PEW RESEARCH CENTERRepublicans produced over 25,000 fewer posts in 2017 than they averaged during the previoustwo years.How members of Congress expressed support and oppositionOverall, 19% of all Facebook posts included in the study contained statements of political supportor opposition directed at one of several political figures or groups. Researchers identified themembers of Congress who were most likely to express support for or opposition to the key politicalfigures and groups analyzed here: Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Democratsand/or liberals, and Republicans and/or conservatives, in order to provide examples of the kindsof language they used when taking sides on Facebook.Among Republicans, Sen. Luther Strange, R-Miss., was most likely to voice support for Trump,doing so in 18% of all his posts, while Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, expressed support for Republicansin 16% of his posts, more than any other member.One post on Strange’s Facebook page in support of Trump, created Aug. 21, 2017, said: “Tonight,President Donald J. Trump put forward a bold plan to win in Afghanistan. This is the speech ourtroops deserved to hear for years under President Obama and never did.” On May 4, 2017, Jordancreated a post that said, “The legislation that passed the House today is better because of theintense involvemen

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. BYPatrick van Kessel, Adam Hughes, and Solomon Messing

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