Political messaging can have a huge impact on public responses to crises. In the US, academics warn that divisions between Republican and Democratic lawmakers are wrecking efforts to contain the virus. Now, a new AI tool has shown just how fractured their rhetoric has been.
Researchers from Ohio State University trained the algorithm to guess which political party members of Congress belonged to by analyzing their tweets about the pandemic. It correctly identified their party 76% of the time, according to their study.
The AI scanned all 30,887 tweets that current members of Congress wrote about COVID-19, from the first one on January 17 to March 31. Notably, the polarization wasn’t evident at the start of the outbreak.
In the week following the first mention of COVID-19, the algorithm struggled to determine whether a Republican or a Democrat had written the tweets. But its accuracy rapidly improved as the parties diverged in their responses to the pandemic.
“We found that once the parties started to figure out the political implications of the issue, polarization was evident in the tweets pretty quickly,” said study co-author Jon Green.
The AI found that Democrats discussed the crisis more frequently than GOP politicians. In total, they sent 19,803 tweets about COVID-19, while Republicans only sent out 11,084. This gap widened as the pandemic engulfed the US.
The two parties also used vastly different language to discuss the pandemic. Democrats placed greater emphasis on threats to public health and workers, whereas Republicans were more focused on China and businesses — and often framed the pandemic as a war.
The original article can be found here.
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