The language of politics: ideological differences in congressional communication on social media and the floor of Congress

John T. Jost, Joanna Sterling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Theory and research in political psychology, most of which is based on self-report studies of ordinary citizens, suggests that liberals and conservatives differ in terms of personality traits, value priorities, cognitive styles, and motivational tendencies. These psychological characteristics may be studied unobtrusively through the use of text analysis, which is especially valuable when it comes to investigating the characteristics of political elites, who are otherwise extremely difficult to study, despite their importance for understanding ideological dynamics. In the present research program we used Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software to analyze the language used by 279–388 members of the U.S. Congress on Twitter (n = 88,874 tweets), Facebook (n = 15,636 posts), and the floor of Congress (n = 6,159 speeches) over the same four-month period (February 9–May 28, 2014). Consistent with findings based on ordinary citizens, we observed that conservative legislators used more language pertaining to religion, power, threat, inhibition, risk and–on the floor of Congress–tradition and resistance to change. Conversely, liberal legislators used more language pertaining to affiliation, achievement, benevolence, emotion in general, ‘social’ concerns and–on the floor of Congress–universalism, stimulation, and hedonism. Implications for the study of political psycholinguistics focusing on ideological and contextual variability in communication patterns on various platforms are discussed, as are differences in language used by ordinary citizens and political elites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSocial Influence
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • Language
  • political ideology; U.S. Congress
  • social media
  • text analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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