Republican Facebook Commenters More Driven By Anger

A new study shows that commenters on Republican candidates' Facebook pages are pretty mad about a lot of things

Angry Trump protesters. REUTERS/Jim Young — REUTERS
May 20, 2016 at 2:45 PM ET

Nearly 20 percent of all time online is spent on Facebook—so it would be absurd for presidential candidates not to devote some effort to the platform. But not all candidate Facebook pages are created equal. Hillary Clinton’s has around 3.5 million likes, her opponent Bernie Sanders’ has around 4.2 million, and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s page has as many as both of them combined with 7.8 million likes.

But likes alone don’t tell us how these pages are appealing to potential voters. A new analysis of candidate Facebook pages from researchers at Brookings does. The study looked at all posts by the three candidates still in the race as well as dearly departed candidates Ted Cruz and John Kasich between January of 2015 and the end February of 2016. It shows not only which topics have received the most attention, but also how different candidates’ supporters react differently to the same topic, even among those within the same party.

The study found a major split in the main topics focussed on by candidates in each party:

We found that Republican candidates focus on four major topic groups: ‘Iran deal, ISIS, gun control’, ‘Planned Parenthood’, ‘immigration and Obamacare’, and ‘taxes and federal spending’. Democrats have focused on four major topics namely:  ‘women’s rights and education’, ‘Wall street and middle class’, ‘climate change and income inequality’, and ‘health care and Social Security’.”

Differing party priorities is hardly a surprise, but there was also a split in how the supporters of each party reacted to those priorities. Republican priorities elicit anger, Democratic ones get warm fuzzies:

“When analyzing sentiment of comments on Republicans’ posts related to the Iran deal, ISIS, and gun control topic, we found that commentators reacted with negative sentiment in the form of anger. For Democrats, people commenting on the Wall Street/middle class topic reacted positively, through showing their support to the proposed reform plan.”

This is not to say that Democrats are only reacting positively. Posts on the issues of health care and social security received strongly negative responses for both Sanders and Clinton. Indicative of their differing messages, Sanders and Clinton received the most positive for different issues: Clinton for women’s rights and education, and Sanders for his posts on Wall Street and the middle class.