WASHINGTON, April 13, 2021 – Latinos discussed Puerto Rico and the COVID-19 pandemic more than any other subject on Twitter in the run-up to the 2020 election, according to researchers at the George Washington University. Spanish-language tweets mentioning “freedom” and “socialism” were also popular, while topics such as Obamacare and immigration did not gain much traction.
A team of researchers at GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) analyzed election-related Twitter posts written in Spanish by American users as part of the school’s Public Echoes of Rhetoric in America (PEORIA) Project. The team examined tweets mentioning then-President Donald Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden that were posted between September 7 and November 3, 2020. Their efforts focused on tweets from users in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and Texas, as well as the United States as a whole.
"The Hispanic vote in the U.S. is growing, shifting, and varies from district to district and state to state,” Michael Cornfield, an associate professor of political management at GSPM and director of the PEORIA Project. “So it is no surprise that parties, candidates, and consultants have Hispanic voters on their minds as they gear up for the 2022 midterm elections.”
Posts about Puerto Rico accounted for 13.4% of all Spanish-language tweets in the U.S. mentioning Trump and 9.7% of those mentioning Biden. Much of the Twitter dialogue concerning Puerto Rico involved messages commemorating the third anniversary of Hurricane Maria and subsequent relief efforts. 9.4% of tweets written in Spanish that mentioned Trump and 3.3% of those mentioning Biden were about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In Florida, for example, Republican talk about Puerto Rico resonated,” Cornfield said. “Across the country, few Spanish tweets discussed President Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but did express sympathy when he contracted the virus and admiration when he recovered.”
Tweets about socialism and freedom made up 4.6% of posts mentioning Trump and 5.4% of those mentioning Biden. This topic was especially relevant in Florida, where many Twitter users lauded the Trump administration’s stance against the socialist governments in Cuba and Venezuela and accused Biden and his family of supporting those regimes. Immigration barely registered among Latino Twitter users, making up only 0.3% of tweets mentioning Trump and 0.2% of posts mentioning Biden.
“We were surprised at how few tweets discussed the issue of immigration at that time,” Cornfield said. “Today it may be different, as Republicans use #bidenbordercrisis to criticize the administration's efforts to deal with a surge of people coming across the southern border.”
The research team published an article summarizing their findings in Regius Magazine. Since its inception in 2015, GSPM’s PEORIA Project has explored the main channels through which political messages reach American voters, how those messages are received and passed on through individuals’ personal networks, and who is getting the most social media traction. PEORIA Project researchers analyze social media activity to gain a clearer understanding of the parallels between Americans’ political expressions and voting decisions.