We know that ordinary citizens' priorities differ according to political ideology, but we don’t know if this is true for political elites. We investigate ideological differences using Twitter and find that liberal and conservative legislators do prioritize issues according to ideology, but we don’t know if this is stable over time or whether this fluctuates.
Jones, Kevin L., Sharareh Noorbaloochi, John T. Jost, Richard Bonneau, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker. “Liberal and Conservative Values: What We Can Learn from Congressional Tweets.” Political Psychology 39, no. 2 (2018): 423–43. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12415
Mar 29, 2017
Area of Study
Past research using self-report questionnaires administered to ordinary citizens demonstrates that value priorities differ as a function of one's political ideology, but it is unclear whether this conclusion applies to political elites, who are presumably seeking to appeal to very broad constituencies. We used quantitative methods of textual analysis to investigate value-laden language in a collection of 577,555 messages sent from the public Twitter accounts of over 400 members of the U.S. Congress between 2012 and 2014. Consistent with theoretical expectations, we observed that Republican and conservative legislators stressed values of tradition, conformity, and national security (as well as self-direction), whereas Democratic and liberal legislators stressed values of benevolence, universalism, hedonism, and social/economic security (as well as achievement). Implications for the large-scale observational study of political psychology are explored.
From previous research using self-report questionnaires administered to ordinary citizens, we know that value priorities differ according to political ideology, but it is unclear whether this conclusion also applies to political elites. Political elites, like politicians, are presumably seeking to appeal to very broad constituencies and it can be especially hard to study the personal values of federal legislators — most operate within institutional constraints and communicate with the aid of staff of multiple individuals. Previous attempts to characterize value-laden aspects of the speeches of liberal and conservative politicians yielded few ideological differences, possibly because these studies relied considerably on scripted forms of speech.
In an effort to clarify this, we investigate ideological differences in the expression of values among political elites engaged in informal modes of political communication, specifically social media usage. To do this, we use quantitative methods of textual analysis to investigate value-laden language in a collection of 577,555 messages sent from the public Twitter accounts of over 400 members of the U.S. Congress between 2012 and 2014. Because nearly every member of Congress uses this social media platform to communicate with their constituents, Twitter provides new opportunities to glean insight about the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of political elites.
We observe that Republican and conservative legislators stress values of tradition, conformity, national security, and self-direction. On the other hand, Democratic and liberal legislators stress values of benevolence, universalism, hedonism, social/economic security, and achievement. On the assumption that members of Congress will continue to use Twitter (and other social media platforms) to communicate with constituents, longitudinal studies may prove especially useful in determining whether ideological differences in value expression are relatively stable over time or shift readily in response to current events.