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  • Writer's pictureChris Bail

Who is Reaching Across Party Lines on Twitter?

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

This week I had the pleasure of writing an op-ed piece for CNN, as part of their "Fractured States of America" series. Whereas other pieces in the series try to diagnose the root causes of polarization, I was asked to try to take a look at possible solutions on social media.

Though I could write about many different aspects of this issue, I decided to delve into something I had wanted to examine for some time: Among prominent political figures who use Twitter such as elected officials, media personalities, and other pundits, who has the most appeal across party lines?

In order to answer this question, I analyzed data from a unique study I conducted with my colleagues in the Duke Polarization Lab in 2017. As part of that study, we conducted a series of surveys with Democrats and Republicans who use Twitter at least once per week. By linking the responses from this study with data from each respondent's Twitter account about the tweets they like and retweet, we were able to examine how people's private political views compare to their public behavior on Twitter.

First, I categorized all of the 1,229 respondents to our 2017 study as either Republican or Democrat. Next, I collected all of the tweets that these respondents "liked" or "favorited on Twitter before the study. I then searched for cases where people liked a post by a high profile figure from the opposing political party, and created a "bipartisan appeal" index for roughly 4,000 high profile "opinion leaders" (political Twitter accounts from elected officials, media personalities, and pundits) who appeared at least ten times in the tweets liked by our respondents. I then created an estimate of each opinion leader's Bipartisan Like rate by dividing the number of members of the opposing political party who like their tweets divided by the total number of people who liked their posts during the study period.

The figure above reports the results of this analysis, which is discussed in further detail in my CNN piece. The Y axis describes the bipartisan like rate, and the X axis describes whether the opinion leader's followers lean republican or democrat. The size of each circle describing an opinion leader describes the raw number of likes by members of the opposing party they receive.

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