Riots or Protests? Republicans and Democrats Can't Agree

Written by Emil Pitkin on June 9, 2020
<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >Riots or Protests? Republicans and Democrats Can't Agree</span>

Though describing the same recent events, Republicans and Democrats use completely different vocabularies. One party talks about looting, the other about Jim Crow; one talks about defunding police departments (it’s not the party that you think), the other about police brutality. 

The parties diverge so much in their social media word choice that they seem almost to be describing different realities, making a national conversation on race all the more challenging. When the general public chooses to read tweets from one political party or another, they’re choosing to see events described with a certain political bent. 

Ask yourself: the people clamoring outside, are they rioting or protesting? Depending on your political views, the news sources you read may use the same words as the politicians you support.

If the Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on what is happening in the country, will they be able to agree on a plan of action? Or will the past weeks contribute even more to the deepening political divide in this country?

GovPredict analyzed over 22,000 tweets issued by all Members of Congress since May 28th, three days after the death of George Floyd and when noticeable shifts in social media behavior emerged. We discovered that Republicans and Democrats use almost entirely different word choices to describe the national conversation on race, and Democrats tweet about the recent events more than Republicans on the whole.

The data once again proves that though elected to the same Congress, the two parties disagree sharply on which problems they were elected to solve.

Looting and riots, or protests?

For all of 2020 until May 28th, Republicans had only twice tweeted about looting, and that in a financial context. Sen. John Cornyn, on May 11th, talked about liability protections to protect owners from being looted by lawsuits; Rep. John Rose, on March 27th, accused his House colleagues of looting the public treasury.

And then… 177 tweets in the last 2 weeks. 

From May 28th on, Republicans refer to looting 177 times, which is an unprecedented spike in the word’s usage.  

Democrats had used “looting” more liberally before May 28th this year — 19 times in total — mostly accusing President Donald Trump and Republicans of looting from veterans, military construction projects, Syria, and taxpayers. Since then, they’ve added 68 mentions, though “looting” is more in vogue amongst the Rs.

Likely referring to the same events on the ground, since May 28th, Democrats have outnumbered Republicans when talking about “protests” by a factor of three to one, while Republicans lead Democrats in talking about “riots” by that same three-to-one advantage. Given that there are 233 Democrats and 197 Republicans, the imbalance is all the more noteworthy.

Democrats speak more about racism and violence; Republicans prefer law and order

When it comes to talking about mentions of “Black lives” (whether in the context of BLM or not), Democrats outnumber Republicans by a factor of more than 15 (227 to 14), with the only Republicans making mention being Billy Long, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mitt Romney. The graphic below shows the Democrats’ overwhelming advantage when talking about Black lives, George Floyd, and protests:

Top 3 terms in Democratic Tweets

Republicans, on the other hand, prefer talking about Antifa, riots, and looting. This chart summarizes the top 3 terms used more by Republicans than Democrats:

Top 3 terms in Republican Tweets

How they talk about the police

The Dems have much more to say about the police. Five times as much, to be precise, with 1,876 mentions to 378. 

The surprise, however, comes from this: only two of the 1,876 Democrat tweets use the term “defund” — Rep. Ocasio Cortez and Rep. Pressley are the responsible parties. Republicans mention defunding over 20 times more often. The more common companions to “police” mentions, for Dems, are “brutality” (used 569 times in conjunction with police), accountability (336 mentions), and reform (245 mentions). Though the Republicans use the word “defund,” their tweets are not in favor of defunding the police  — they’re arguing against defunding proposals.

Deep dive

We analyzed the top search terms used by each party on the whole. The results are summarized in the following graph, which highlights the strong differences between the two parties’ Twitter vocabularies.

Congressional use of different words around current unrest