Tweeting the shutdown: A picture is worth 800,000 furloughed jobs

October 1, 2013

What do members of Congress have to say about the government shutdown?  Here at the New York University Social Media and Political Participation laboratory, we gathered all the tweets from all members of Congress over the last 24 hours, yielding a total 1200 tweets, approximately half from Democrats and half from Republicans.  Lab member Pablo Barberá then created word clouds for these tweets by party.  Word clouds are visual representations of how often words are found in a collection of text.*  Here’s what we found over the past 24 hours. Republicans are in red, Democrats in blue:


(Pablo Barbera: NYU Social Media and Political Participation laboratory)

What are members of Congress tweeting about? For Republicans, it’s all about #obamacare and, apparently, themselves, as “house”  is clearly one of the most popular words. For Democrats, well, it’s all about the Republicans, with #gopshutdown by far the most popular word in any tweets. One of the nice things about these tweets is that they are essentially unfiltered messages from the members of Congress themselves (or their staff members). So, to the extent that this gives us a sense of the “messages” the two sides are going to push as the shutdown continues, look for the Democrats to blame the Republicans, and the Republicans to blame Obamacare. Wonder which one will prove more effective? A Quinnipiac University National Poll released Tuesday suggests the Democrats’ strategy may be a good one: Americans oppose shutting down the government to block Obamacare by a 72 percent-to-22 percent margin, with even 45 percent of Republicans opposing the GOP strategy. Full poll results are available here.

*For the #TextAsData folks out there, we removed the most common stopwords using a dictionary (that includes “the”, “and”, “will”, etc.), as well as words shorter than three characters, digits, and URLs to create the wordclouds.

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Erik Voeten | October 1, 2013